Posted on August 30, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

Here’s a fascinating piece of research: Judges who were informed that a convicted criminal was genetically predisposed to violence meted out lighter sentences to him than they otherwise would have.

The New York Times called the research, which was published in the journal Science, “the most rigorous study to date of how behavioral biology can sway judicial decisions.” The newspaper even predicted that the findings will prompt lawyers to use more “brain science” in their cases.

Defense attorneys have been using brain scans of convicted defendants as mitigating evidence in appeals of death sentences, according to The Times.

The new study found that so-called neurobiological evidence “reduced judges’ sentences by an average of about 7 percent for a fictional defendant convicted of battery and identified as a psychopath,” The Times wrote.

Here is the set-up for the research. The University of Utah enlisted 181 judges from across the country who had to read the file on a fictional defendant who had been convicted of beating a restaurant manager with a gun butt, according to The Times. The file had materials that said that the defendant after testing had been determined to be a psychopath.

The files were given to the judges, but one half of those files included testimony from an expert on psychopathy who said that the defendant had a gene that had been tied to violent behavior, by affecting  brain development, The Times reported. As it turned out, the judges who had been given that testimony wound up giving the defendant, on average, a 13 year sentence.

That was a year less than the jurists who had not been given the expert testimony about the defendant and his genetics, according to The Times.

So basically, the study found that a criminal with a genetic predisposition for violence is essentially held somewhat less responsible for his actions by judges than other defendants.

The details of the research are outlined in The Times story, and make for a good read.


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447