Behavioral Genetics and Psychology in Law

Behavioral Genetics and Psychology in Law


There has always been a thought-provoking problem, whether a criminal state of mind is an essential feature of a human or whether it is fostered in a problematic family and lousy environment. Redundancy of suggestions, guesses, scientific works, and philosophical reflections has led to the usage of neuroscientific and psychological works for the sake of understanding the causes of criminal behavior. People were always curious about the factors which influence a person’s inclination towards committing a crime. That is why there are such books as “Psychology and Crime” by Clive R. Hollin  and “Genetics, Crime and Justice” by Debra Wilson . However, these different opinions are still controversial, and the main problem is that human’s brain is an utterly complicated machine. Examining the lie detector mode of operation, people eventually concluded that a polygraph test is not reliable for detecting truth. The fact of being recognized makes some people so nervous that they will fail the test, let alone that people can trick the device (Evans, 2018). Some specialists are conducting the same scrutiny of MRI as proof in courts. The credibility of genetics and psychology in law became a question of life and death, influenced sentences, and applied the moral side of judges.

Statement of Research Questions

According to Lombroso’s  theory of crime, those who have biological defects are more likely to be criminals than those, who are biologically perfect. He firmly believed that the shape of a human’s traits and body parts reflect subliminal desires. However, scholars admitted his work as a social theory, which does not have enough evidence (Elwood, 1912 , 717). The problem being addressed in this study is the use of behavioral genetic and psychological deviations as an absolution. Several countries’ court systems count behavioral genetic and insanity as a mitigating circumstance. Such a tendency evoked scholars’ debates regarding human’s predisposition to violence and the measure which courts should be used during trials .

 Theoretical Framework

In this research, several articles are used to help in covering  the questions. “Genetics Home Reference” will fully explain the notion of the MAOA gene and its influence on a person’s behavior. “Behavioral Genetics in Criminal and  Civil Courts” will present some trials where the defendants used genetical and psychological analysis to have an impact on judges. “Lombroso’s theory of crime” will show retrospectively person’s attempts to explain the nature of the crime and will present first suggestions that it depends on biological factors. “Behavioral Genetics in Criminal Cases: Past, Present, and Future” will explain consequences which some of the scholars predict if the manipulations of defendants did not stop. “What Are Dissociative Disorders?” is going to inform you about one of the most controversial mental diseases. The article will provide symptoms and genetical disorders which lead to altering in behavior . The author is also mentioning the reasons, which cause dissociative disorders.

Some scholars consider  that genes are not under our control and judges should take them into account the same way as insanity. Ergo, if a person is an inborn criminal, he/she is not responsible for changes and self-control, which means that such a person has more chances to commit a crime once again. Society is in permanent danger because of such malefactors, and government, being discreet, should instead keep them in lengthier detention. All of the former brought the idea that some prosecutors would use genes as a piece of evidence in the court cases in the future, which may become a firm ground to stigmatization (Sabatello & Appelbaum, 2017). Society may polarize, and that will cause several upheavals in various countries.

Scientists have found a so-called warrior gene or MOA (the monoamine oxidase A).  The mutation in this gene leads to intellectual disability and aggressive behavior. The overage of particular neurotransmitters may reduce human’s ability of self-control (MAOA Gene, 2019). This gene was mentioned in Bradley Waldroup’s case in the USA. He murdered his wife’s friend by shooting him eight times and intended to kill his wife. The court first returned him guilty and sentenced to death. However, the defense team of Bradley Waldroup demanded genetic analysis. The murderer turned out to have a warrior gene mutation, which could influence his behavior. The genetical analysis of this type causes lots of complications for judges as they should take more evidence into account (Barras, 2018). Discovering new genetical mutations will lead to more subtleties of court processes.

In the case of Herman Henry, the court determined his innocence because of mental disease caused by his genetic predisposition. Though the judges sentenced him to death for homicide and armed robbery, the court reversed the decision after Henry’s psychologist claimed that the murderer was unaware due to his mental state. Another controversial and famous case is about Billy Milligan and his 24-multiple personalities. His lawyers persuaded the court that he was not guilty and it was only one of his individualities that committed the crimes. The judge sent him to the psychiatric hospital, but he escaped.

His diagnosis was dissociative identity disorder. The symptoms of this disease are the detachment of personality and amnesia. Typically for this disorder, a person has two individuals inside and becomes mentally ill after childhood traumas (Wang, 2018). Billy Milligan was considered to be a liar and an outstanding actor. The problem was that after his case there appeared more similar cases, where criminals were pretending to have dissociative identity disorder. Dwayne Wilson in 2005 killed his sister’s family, his nephew Paris survived. Thomas Huskey, in his turn, raped and murdered people. Both claimed to have another personality who acted instead of them. Even though both were sentenced to prison, judges had an utterly long lawsuit full of doubts and complications (Hunt, 2017). However, while the criminals are using psychological and genetic breakthroughs as a defense, the criminal justice system is in danger of being revised (Bernet & Farahany, 2006). Changes may throw humanity on step aside and  provoke protests.

My Position as a Researcher

The problem of the research is an inherently ethical and personal safety question. The court system may suffer from criminals’ manipulations, who are trying to mild their fate. This ambiguity needs a solution not to confuse judges and juridical processes. In my point of view, considering genetic and psychological factors should not be taken into account at all, because it may lead to certain inequities. My mother’s friend is a lawyer, and he was presenting some cases after which he was surprised by a person’s ability to manipulate and to escape liability. Science influences the world more and more. However, it does not have a monopoly on the truth. Court systems should judge people for their deeds and use verified evidence for awarding a sentence. To be fairer, judges are having several complications while making a verdict. I think the murderer must not have any excuses (if it is not self-defense) and it would be better  to stay reasonable and stable.


Barras, C. (May 30, 2018). The controversial debut of genes in criminal cases. BBC Future. Retrieved from

Ellwood, C. A. (1912). Lombroso ‘s Theory of Crime. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology , 717. Retrieved from  .

Evans, G. (October 4, 2018). How credible are lie detector tests? BBC News. Retrieved from

Hunt, K. (January 20, 2017). 5 Criminals Who Claimed to Have Multiple Personalities. Mental Floss. Retrieved from

MAOA gene. (February 12, 2019). Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved from

Farahany, N., & Bernet, W. (2006). Behavioural Genetics in Criminal Cases: Past, Present, and Future. Genomics, Society and Policy , 2, 1st ser. Retrieved from  .

Sabatello, M., & Appelbaum, P. S. (November/December 2017). Behavioral Genetics in Criminal and Civil Courts . Retrieved from

Wang, P. (August 2018). What Are Dissociative Disorders? American Psychiatric Association . Retrieved from