Dillard told Healthline that with more information about CTE and its link to impulse control and aggression, a lawyer could make a case that Hernandez’s condition affected his “criminal intent.”
Dillard pointed out that in Massachusetts, prosecutors have to prove criminal responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt.
If a person has a disorder that affects their ability to develop criminal intent, that can lead a jury to decide if a person is not guilty by reason of insanity.
“I might say [in court], ‘I’ve given you some scientific evidence about my client, he had these symptoms,’” Dillard said.
She explained she could then tell the jury they’d have to look at the evidence of head injury and decide if it affected a defendant’s ability to “form criminal intent” and “to control his impulse to know what he was doing was right or wrong in that moment.”
She pointed out that even without a specific test that could definitively “prove” a player had CTE before their death, in a court of law, the attorneys could bring up the possibility of the disorder as a reason to cast “reasonable doubt.”
“The lawyer’s job is often to take those sorts of pillars of knowledge and connect them together so that the jury might understand,” she said.
A new test on the horizon?
Doctors have had difficulty giving people even a suspected diagnosis of CTE because the symptoms can be caused by a variety of other conditions.
However, recent research has pointed to at least one way people at risk of CTE may finally be able to get a definitive diagnosis while still alive.
Researchers from the CTE Center at Boston University School of Medicine concluded that a protein called CCL11 could be a biomarker that indicates a person has CTE.
The team tested brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid of 23 deceased NFL players with CTE, as well as 50 people who had Alzheimer’s disease and 11 people who had neither condition.
They found that the players with CTE were far more likely to have this kind of protein in the spinal fluid and brain.
However, it’ll take more time and a much larger pool of data before that test could be considered effective for a CTE diagnosis.