Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

Just echoing the recent story of an Italian court that decided to shorten – by 1 year – the sentence of a defendant convicted of murder, based on genetic and brain imaging data.  Here is a previous post and podcast link covering some of the issues on this topic.

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United States Supreme Court
Image by onecle via Flickr

I much enjoyed the June 15th podcast “Blame it on my genes” hosted at the New York Academy of Sciences. Here, Professor Paul Appelbaum lays out a biological framework for behavioral genetics wherein genes influence an individual’s sensitivity to experience in ways that predispose or insulate them from illness. As the basic science begins to map specific (gene x environment) examples, how, then, might this knowledge play out in the justice system where it could be used in “determinations of culpability?” Indeed, as covered by Professor Appelbaum, our justice system allows individuals to be excused from culpability when they are incapacitated (insanity defense) or via automatism (a sleepwalker commits a crime but is not consciously aware of it). Can, or should, genetic background be used in this way (a genetic determinism defense)? Professor Appelbaum reviews a key Supreme Court ruling from “Robinson v. California” citing the opinions of Justice Hugo Black that recognize that just because someone is influenced by causal factors, does not mean that that person cannot choose rationally. This opinion is based on the principle of compatibilism (free will and determinism are compatible) which apparently is rooted in an ancient school of Greek philosophers. Nevertheless, there is a lot of action in the lower courts where genetic evidence is being proffered to mitigate or lessen culpability – interesting times ahead. Perhaps the judiciary is already subscribed to “The DNA Network!”

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