Clone of Nita A. Farahany

July 9, 2012Duke Law News

Multidisciplinary scholar uses expertise in law, biosciences, and philosophy to rethink legal norms

"Duke is at the cutting edge of interdis­ciplinary research. Duke enabled me, as a graduate student, to com­bine my interests in law, philosophy, and the biosciences, which was made possible by the many individuals across campus who share an interest in those fields, and who believe in fostering collaborations across disciplines."

Professor Nita Farahany

Nita Farahany, whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of criminal law, biosciences, and philosophy, holds a joint appointment at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP). Her research examines the legal, social, and ethi­cal implications arising from developments in the biosciences, particularly from the fields of neuroscience and behavioral genetics.

“I use the biosciences as a lens and a tool to understand legal doctrines and normative commitments that we hold in social institu­tions such as criminal law,” said Farahany, whose recent scholarship focuses on crimi­nal procedure and how it may evolve in light of developments in neuroscience and behav­ioral genetics. “More broadly, I am interested in bioethics and neuroethics.”

“Professor Farahany is a dynamic scholar who is working at the leading edge of law, philosophy, and science,” said Dean David F. Levi. “As a mark of her extraordinary reach, she is joining both the Law and IGSP facul­ties. We are delighted to welcome her back to Duke where she was trained and already has many friends and collaborators.”

Farahany’s recent works include “Searching Secrets,” 160 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1239 (2012) which explores the descriptive potential of intellectual property law as a metaphor to describe current Fourth Amendment search and seizure law and predict how the Fourth Amendment will apply to emerging technology. A companion article, “Incriminating Thoughts,” 64 Stanford Law Review 351 (2012) demonstrates through modern applications from neuroscience the need to redefine the taxonomy of evidence subject to the privilege against self-incrimination. She also is the editor of The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2009), a book of essays from experts in science, law, philosophy, and policy.

In 2010, Farahany was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She teaches classes and seminars relating to criminal law, criminal procedure, and other subjects at the intersection of law, science, and philosophy. In the spring 2013 semester she will teach a seminar on Genetics and Reproductive Technology.

Farahany received her AB in genetics, cell, and developmental biology at Dartmouth College. She received her JD/MA (in philoso­phy) at Duke University, and continued on to receive her PhD in philosophy at Duke, where her dissertation was entitled “Rediscovering Criminal Responsibility through Behavioral Genetics.” She also holds an ALM in biol­ogy from Harvard University. She clerked for Judge Judith W. Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004-2005, after which she joined the Vanderbilt University faculty as a Vanderbilt Fellow and instructor in law. She became an assistant professor in 2006. In 2011 Farahany taught at Stanford Law School as a visiting associate professor of law and the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights.

Farahany said she looks forward to continu­ing her academic career at Duke, where she has maintained close connections with faculty scholars in law and in philosophy, such as James E. Coleman Jr., the John S. Bradway Professor of Law, with whom she first worked as a research assistant during her student days.

“Both when I was a graduate student and now, Duke is at the cutting edge of interdis­ciplinary research,” said Farahany. “Duke enabled me, as a graduate student, to com­bine my interests in law, philosophy, and the biosciences, which was made possible by the many individuals across campus who share an interest in those fields, and who believe in fostering collaborations across disciplines. The collaborative spirit at Duke has grown even stronger since I graduated. And Duke remains a leader in the social, ethical, and legal implications of the biosciences.”

For his part, Coleman is delighted about her faculty appointment.

“It is exciting to have Nita back at Duke,” he said. “From her first day at law school, as a summer starter, Nita sought insight into not just the what of law, but also the how and why. In her last year at Duke she hosted a symposium on behavioral genet­ics and criminal law and never looked back. At Vanderbilt, she became one of the most prominent young scholars thinking about the impact of behavioral genetics and neurosci­ence on criminal law and criminal proce­dure, an important emerging field in which she is a pioneer. Her creativity is infectious.”

Farahany, Coleman, and Neil Vidmar, the Russell Robinson II Professor of Law and Psychology, are planning to build on Farahany’s empirical analysis of the use of neuroscience and behavioral genetics in the criminal context with a pilot study of North Carolina prosecutors’, judges’, and defense attorneys’ experiences and attitudes towards neuroscience and behavioral genetics.“Nita’s projects and expertise bring a lot of substance to the Law School,” said Vidmar. “She is in a unique position because she understands the science and under­stands where the science fits into law.”