Criminal DNA

Genetics and the science behind genetics are often misinterpreted or misused. This is especially true in movies and film series. One of the more recent misues involves a TV show in which one of the criminals claimed that a gene in his DNA forced him to become a sexual predator.

This is not the first time lawyers on TV or in real life used genetics as a reason why their clients committed a violent crime, but juries usually do not go for defenses such as these.


The most famous example of genetics being used for the defense of a crime is the use of the molecule MAOA that is connected to antisocial or criminal behavior. The extent of this goes so far that, during a court case in 2009, a convicted murderer received a shorter sentence due to that gene.

The issue with this is that connecting criminal behavior to one part of our DNA is not straightforward. Many different factors need to fit together to complete the whole picture. This is why expert analysis is required to prove all of this beyond a reasonable doubt. Scientists will always say that there is a low chance for a gene to be the sole reason why criminal behavior occurs. For a crime to be completed, more factors need to fall into place. Social and environmental effects are just as significant as genetics. Having a particular genetic mutation does not mean you are going to commit a crime. Not even all criminals have the same gene mutation.

This uncertainty is precisely the reason why lawyers often use this theory to try and defend their clients. Claiming that your client had a genetic predisposition to commit a crime seems like a great way to defend them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

And scientists who are working on these theories are not looking at ways to keep criminals of the streets. They are trying to find explanations for human nature, and the attorneys are the ones that are finding clever ways to abuse this information.

Fortunately, these arguments do not work most of the time. This kind of evidence might also be detrimental to one’s defense, because juries become warry that the defendant might commit a crime again due to that specific gene mutation. For that reason, they might decide to convict someone to keep them off the streets.

But in reality, it does not have a significant effect either way. Lawyers use anything at their disposal to help a client. Even if they know that their defense might be ineffective, they are still going to try it if it gives them a better chance to have their client released. If there is even a slim, one in a 100 chance that the defense tactic might work, lawyers use it.

One thing that is certain is that this tactic is not going to be used in a standard court case. It is much more likely for lawyers to use findings like these to lower the punishment when their client has already been convicted of a crime. The gene mutation defense can also be used to give more credence to the argument that their defendant has a mental illness.

Research about gene mutation and its effects on our behavior are relevant. Their use might even become more common in courtrooms in the future, but this is not something that might significantly change the outcome of a trial. This is not something that might force a member of the jury to look at a criminal in another light. Until some serious progress is made in this field, people still don’t find any of this convincing enough to release a criminal.

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