Friday, August 17, 2012

How Genetic Explanations for Violent Behavior Influence Criminal Sentencing

A new study in Science finds judges tend to give lighter sentences to violent, psychopathic criminal defendants when presented with evidence that the defendants had a gene linked to aggressive behavior.  Researchers at the University of Utah — including former CLB Fellow Teneille Brown — provided judges with a fictional case file that described a violent crime.  All of the case files identified the defendant as a psychopath, but half included additional scientific evidence linking the defendant's pyschopathy to a genetic cause.  Although judges appear inclined to give substantially longer sentences to defendants identified as psychopaths, the study found those sentences were an average of a full year shorter when judges heard biological explanations for the defendant's behavior.

If you can't get past the paywall at Science to read this fascinating study, you can learn more in news coverage by the New York Times and NPR's Morning Edition, among other outlets.