Last Updated 19 Oct 2020

Catch 22 and Using Genetic Evidence

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According to Yarwood (2016), using genetic evidence could be a catch 22 situation pointing out that in the past, England and Whales handed down indeterminant sentences for defendants that presented genetic evidence that they are of a risk in committing further offenses, not just for eliminating responsibility for offenses due to genetic inheritance. Today, this type of sentencing has been replaced with extended sentences for serious crimes, but it is an indication of how this information can be used by both sides of the courts.

Citing a case of Rene Patrick Bourassa Jr where the defendant’s representatives claimed that Bourassa was not culpable because he had the MAOA-3R variant, also known as the “Warrior Gene” so, scientifically, he was from the time he was born, more likely to hurt others.

Bourassa had also been sexually abused repeatedly as a child. According to Gold & Appelbaum (2014), the overall impact of this gene-environment interaction is demonstrated by the fact that 12% of a group that had both low MAOA and maltreatment accounted for 44% of the convictions for violent crime. Eighty-five percent of the males with both risk factors developed some form of antisocial behavior.

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Judges are now expected to consider opinions of psychiatrists, considering brain scans as well as genetic chronology. Like Bourassa, every event in his past, as well as his parents and so on may be considered. The question is, if genetics is admissible then who will actually be responsible for their actions?

The purpose of the criminal law is to make available a clear guide for appropriate conduct. If responsibility is to be removed from the offenders, it diminishes this purpose. Yarwood (2016). Important points are raised for consideration. For instance, if newborns are tested for criminal genes, how far should the state intervene in preventing abuse that may cause violent behavior in the future?

Despite the ongoing uncertainty regarding the exact role of monoamines and their genetic foundations in hostile and antisocial behavior, and the controversy on how it is currently applied in determinations of the court, with the ongoing developments in behavioral genetics, if we are not able to already do so, we will in the future be able to recognize genes that, intermixed with environmental provocations, people who are predisposed to elevated rates of criminality.

These projected results will pose a difficult situation for the criminal justice system with respect to their consequences for deciding criminal liability and punishment. Gold & Appelbaum (2014) We can see that using genetic predisposition as far as determining culpability of an offender, especially in the most violent of crimes, will be problematic. Currently deciding if one is culpable by reason of insanity is still a controversial topic.

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