Implications regarding the use of behavioral genetics in the criminal courtroom
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Throughout history, humans have sought to find the mechanisms that drive human behavior. The field of behavioral genetics has grown to fill this desire, as modern techniques for research are being used to find a link between genetics and human behavior. One of the most primal and historical human traits is our propensity for violence and antisocial behaviors. Over the years, adoption studies and twin method studies have shown us that these traits are heritable to a certain degree, but advances in scientific research have allowed researchers to identify specific genetic polymorphisms and genetic factors that are associated with certain behaviors. In courtrooms across America, these genetic claims are becoming a bigger part of the defense’s arguments, and it has become important to further explore the consequences and implications of using behavioral genetics in the courtroom. First, the validity of these claims was assessed by looking at two of the most common genetic defenses, XYY syndrome and Brunner’s syndrome (associated with a genetic abnormality in the MAOA gene). Since the first claims were made in court, it was found that the XYY claim simply does not hold its ground in the courtroom any longer. The Brunner’s syndrome claim is found to be valid for use in court, however careful review of the circumstances is still required. Changes in the interpretation of MAOA effects, its gene-environment interactions, and the inconsistencies in its use were examined to provide examples for why discretion is highly important. Upon establishing guidelines for validity, ethical issues were also considered, to identify the social implications of using these behavioral genetics data in the courtroom. Issues regarding determinism, labeling theory, racial tension, privacy, and discrimination are areas of daily life that are relevant to this increasing usage. Finally, a discussion is introduced on ways this data can be used outside the realm of criminal law, as it has also started to be used in civil law as well. The future of behavioral genetics research and the possibility of bringing neuroscience to the courtrooms are areas of discussion that show the need for the courts to understand the changing nature of defenses. In the end, this paper concluded that some key points must be achieved before use of behavioral genetics is as fair and ethical as possible. Unbiased education of judges and jury members is crucial before allowing the defense to present their interpretation of any genetic findings. More standards need to be in place to prevent the ethical dilemmas that arise. Courts must work towards standardizing approval for genetic claims to be made in court such that all defendants get a fair trial. In the end, an outright ban on the use of behavioral genetics in the courtroom would be irresponsible given the validity and importance of the claims. However its use must be carefully scrutinized, and the researchers, courts, and policy makers must work towards eliminating bias and the ethical concerns that arise, as well as carefully moving forward with research in the future.