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Did Aaron Hernandez Have CTE? Could that Be Used in Court?


After Aaron Hernandez’ death this week, his next of kin wanted his brain to go to Boston University CTE Center to determine whether he had experienced CTE. This could not only explain some of his behaviors, but also help in future research to prevent the same damage from happening to other athletes.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain condition believed to be caused by head injuries and concussions. Dr. Dominick Sportelli, a double boarded psychiatrist, explained the condition in an interview on LawNewz. The brain is like Jello, and with trauma the brain can be damaged. Sometimes that damage can lead to depression, aggression, impulse control, and memory loss.

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed post mortem. However, as research continues to lead to breakthroughs, doctors are hopeful they will find a way to diagnose it sooner. This will lead to the ability to treat it, and maybe even to find ways to prevent it. It will also lead to CTE being used as a defense in criminal cases. We’ve already seen this in the case of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, who was found incompetent to stand trial due to his dementia. Many feel his dementia is the result of CTE from too many hits taken in the wrestling ring. With Snuka, it’s likely we won’t have objective answers about CTE until after his death. Butif there were a test that could diagnose CTE sooner, defendants could follow Snuka’s example and use the results to argue diminished capacity. They’d have the benefit of objective, scientific evidence to support their claims. In cases similar to those against War Machine, Hernandez, and OJ Simpson, we may soon hear experts testifying about how CTE affected the defendant and his capacity to form intent.

Researchers are racing to find ways to diagnose and treat CTE–not for the courtroom, but for the lives of those who have sustained such injury. No matter whether you think Aaron Hernandez was a cold blooded killer or an innocent man wrongly accused of multiple murders, in death his brain may provide life saving answers for many. That would be a legacy far different from the one we’ve seen played out in courtrooms over the past few years.

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Heather Hansen has been a trial attorney for over twenty years, and has consistently been named on of the Top 50 Female Attorneys in Pennsylvania. She's a trained mediator with a psychology degree, and has been asked to speak to judges, lawyers, doctors and students regarding her trial practice. She's been an adjunct professor at Villanova Law School and has authored numerous articles and book chapters. Heather is also a keynote speaker focused on communication and leadership.