Should Courts Consider Genetic Propensity For Violence When Sentencing?

Photo: CIAT via Flickr (CC)

Photo: CIAT via Flickr (CC)

“Hey listen, I’m not a bad man. I’m sick, see. Sick. What do you call it? Psychopathic. You know. Personality disorder. The court, man, he says so! You’re not gonna hurt me, are you? Jesus! You can’t kill me!” – Johnny the Boy, Mad Max (1979)

In 2009, an Italian court reduced a murderer’s sentence by one year because doctors had identified a gene in the defendant’s DNA, called MAOA, that had been linked to violent behavior. The ruling was controversial and some scientists objected to the sentence reduction. “MAOA findings have been generally used in murder trials, sometimes to suggest diminished capacity of the defendant to premeditate his criminal behavior,” but most often to reduce a sentence, writes Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, in an essay published today in Neuron. In the essay, Appelbaum explains that genetic evidence demonstrating a defendant’s predisposition for antisocial behavior or mental illness is showing up in courtrooms at an ever-quickening pace. And that pace, he warns, might be outrunning the legal system’s ability to interpret it.

“Premature introduction of genetic evidence in court carries a number of risks,” said Appelbaum in an email to The Verge. “The most obvious is that the purported associations [between genetics and behavior] are not real and will be disproved over time.” But even the most replicated and widely accepted findings, he said, can be misinterpreted by judges and jurors

via If violence is in your genes, should courts be more lenient? | The Verge.

20 Comments on "Should Courts Consider Genetic Propensity For Violence When Sentencing?"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Jun 6, 2014 at 9:36 pm |

    prison is a barbaric practiice with no benefit to anyone
    except to the for profit jailers & the vindictive
    justice in Duh Homeland is not only blind
    it’s aptly known as criminal justice
    which it is

    • Hadrian999 | Jun 7, 2014 at 1:55 am |

      what would yo do with human predators if prispn wasn’t an option?

      • BuzzCoastin | Jun 7, 2014 at 2:00 am |

        preditors makeup a very small percentage of prisoners

        there are creative ways to deal with the habitually violent
        that do not require violence in return
        the bigger problem is the preditor mob

        • Ted Heistman | Jun 7, 2014 at 11:45 am |

          I think if you aren’t going to have jails, you need to have swift executions. I don’t see how it can be any other way. Keeping people in a cage for 50 years is seen as the more humane option. I disagree. But I still don’t think you can let murderers remain free running amok.

          There is also the problem of cycles of revenge killings and vigilantism.

          • BuzzCoastin | Jun 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

            the majority of modern prisons
            have a very small percentage of murders
            most murders like Bush, Obamma et al, go free
            the violent tortures go free

            most Homeland prisoners
            are guilty of being
            a person of color, poor, mentally challenged
            if your white & middle class or above
            you’re less likely to know this
            or experience jail

      • Craig Bickford | Jun 7, 2014 at 6:10 am |


  2. Monkey See Monkey Do | Jun 6, 2014 at 9:46 pm |

    People are more than a set of predispositions. Predispositions can be shaped, redirected or even altered. The prison slave industry would have you think otherwise.

    • Ted Heistman | Jun 7, 2014 at 11:44 am |

      That still calls for massive institutions, with people being held there against their wills. Why would you not still call it a prison?

      • Matt Staggs | Jun 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm |

        The only thing I ever found vaguely interesting about David Fincher’s Aliens 3 was the off-world colony they set up for criminals with the XYY gene. Silly sci-fi stuff, but a provocative premise for a story setting.

        • Simiantongue | Jun 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm |

          Sci-fi is not so silly I think. The basic premise comes from Europe sending off their criminals and as they would call them “undesirables” to the new world or Australian continent.

          This idea of Island prisons is alive in pop culture in movies such as Papillon, Escape From New York, No Escape and more I’m forgetting at the moment.

          David Fincher’s off world prison colony had a twist, a type of eugenics program in which the prison colony isolated people with the XYY gene. But the basic Island prison concept remained intact.

          I said Sci-fi was not so silly because it has a way of divorcing ideas from our preconceived notions so we may examine them more objectively.

          (Not to digress too far from the topic but a very good example of divorcing ideas from our preconceived notions is the movie “The Day the World Stood Still”. Where Earth finds out they are but one civilization among many in the galaxy. A representative of a powerful intergalactic peace keeping force comes to Earth to bring a better way of life. Clearly a metaphor for the spread of western democracy among the many “heathen” nations of the world. The idea of western, specifically American exceptionalism, was fast gaining traction in the US at the time.)

          I wonder if the idea of Island prisons has merit. At least for violent offenders not able to function within society, perhaps they should be made to function without it. Of course a prison is still a prison, but there are levels of…

          Actually i just decided I’m going out of for a walk… Maybe later.

        • Ted Heistman | Jun 7, 2014 at 4:13 pm |

          Some people think that’s what earth is! That movie could have been way better. I forget who the original director was, but the concept art for it was awesome

          • Woobniggurath | Jun 8, 2014 at 4:11 pm |

            Good heavans my man! “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is one of the completest science fiction movies ever shot. Thoughtful and beautiful to look at.

      • Monkey See Monkey Do | Aug 20, 2014 at 8:58 am |

        Mental reprogramming doesn’t require institutions. DIY, psychotherapy with anarchist principles, guided therapy and healing communities are all realistic social experiments.

        Shamanic communities come to mind, also certain elements applied in early kibbutz.

        Many parts of our social dysfunction have to be addressed before we can gain clarity on peoples mental dysfunctions.

  3. Hadrian999 | Jun 7, 2014 at 1:57 am |

    slippery slope, one could argue that dispositions that are out of the control of the offender are cause for longer or indefinite incarceration

  4. Craig Bickford | Jun 7, 2014 at 6:05 am |

    Do I hear the march of the returning eugenicists, or did they ever go anywhere?

  5. HowardBrazee | Jun 7, 2014 at 9:07 am |

    If there is a question here – it should be the other way around. I have a much bigger need to be protected from someone who has road rage, than for the guy who knocked of his spouse for the insurance. But our penal system isn’t about protecting us, it’s about vengeance.

  6. DeepCough | Jun 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm |

    So…..if your genes are not fit, then you must acquit?

Comments are closed.