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If a criminal’s behavior has a biological basis, is that reason to reduce the sentence because defective genes or brain function leave the criminal with less self-control and ability to tell right from wrong? Or is it reason for a harsher sentence because the criminal likely will reoffend?
“In a nationwide sample of judges, we found that expert testimony concerning the biological causes of psychopathy significantly reduced sentencing of the psychopath” from almost 14 years to less than 13 years, says study coauthor James Tabery, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Utah.
However, the hypothetical psychopath in the study got a longer sentence than the average nine-year sentence judges usually impose for the same crime — aggravated battery — and there were state-to-state differences in whether judges reduced or increased the sentence when given information on the biological causes of psychopathy.
The study was conducted by Tabery; Lisa Aspinwall, a University of Utah associate professor of psychology; and Teneille Brown, an associate professor at the university’s S.J.