As genetics have become more integrated in various fields (for example, medicine), it is important to examine its application. Specifically, in the field of law, there can be questions concerning whether genetics can be valid evidence for individuals’ criminal acts.
What is Criminality?
In the book Behavioral Genetics, Baker emphasises that the definition of criminality varies across all countries and cultures. For instance, an individual can inherit genes that could make them more impulsive, which could perhaps lead them to do certain actions that can be perceived as criminal in some contexts but not in others.
Because different nations have different laws and definitions of what is deemed criminal, criminality can be considered subjective and dependent upon national laws and cultural context. Therefore, national laws and cultural context may determine whether behaviour is normal or criminal. There is no universal law or universal definition of criminality that would necessarily cause someone to be labeled as a criminal in all cultures and nations, so on this basis, there is no specific trait that exists that would deem someone a universal criminal.
Can Criminality be Justified by Genetics?
The claim that an individual is “not guilty by reason of genetics” is not a plausible defense for criminal acts. Alleging to be inherently more impulsive or more defiant than the average person due to genetics is not a justifiable reason for committing a crime. The bottom line is that people with these propensities can still think rationally and understand right from wrong—their cognition is generally not impaired.
For genetics to be considered as a plausible defence for a crime, a person would have to be diagnosed with a mental illness such as a psychological dysfunction that impairs their cognitive abilities. This means that the individual might not be able to think rationally about certain actions. For example, having the genetics that may lead to schizophrenic symptoms could be a more plausible defence for a criminal act if, hypothetically, an individual is proven to have been deluded by voices only they themselves hear, ordering them to commit a certain act. However, it is important to note that having the genetic propensity to act a certain way is not considered to be enough in legal cases.
Is Criminality Inheritable?
Considering that criminality is subjective, context-based and cannot be specifically defined universally, criminality is not known as an inheritable trait that can be inheritable. There are no specific genes that have been identified yet that can cause an individual to commit universal crimes. As a result, it is undoubtedly logical to assume that criminality is not, actually inheritable.
- Baker, Catherine. Behavioral Genetics: an Introduction to How Genes and Environments Interact through Development to Shape Differences in Mood, Personality, and Intelligence. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Joseph, Jay. Is Crime in the Genes? A Critical Review of Twin and Adoption Studies of Criminality and Antisocial Behavior. The Journal of Mind and Behavior (2001): 179-218.
About the Author
Clare Jocelyn Mangubat, USA
Clare is a nursing student at University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she is a clinical medicine research coordinator for a study testing the effectiveness of a smartphone app in reducing insomnia in older adults, a copy-editor for a textbook about academic entrepreneurship, and a coordinator for her own pilot project testing smartphone-delivered compassion training to healthcare professionals.