News & AnalysisScience and the Courts

In Mock Case, Biological Evidence Reduces Sentences

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Science  17 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6096, pp. 788
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6096.788

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In a recent study, U.S. trial judges reviewed a case involving a fictional violent crime, including psychiatric testimony that the perpetrator had been diagnosed as a psychopath. Some of them also read testimony from a neurobiologist who testified that the perpetrator possessed a specific genetic variant linked to violent behavior and that research with other psychopaths has identified abnormalities in brain function that may undermine the normal human aversion to inflicting harm on others. When asked how they would sentence the criminal, the judges who read this biological explanation handed out modestly reduced prison sentences. That judges would be swayed by biological evidence in such a violent case surprised the study researchers, who report their findings on page 846 of this week's issue.