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Study reports an increasing use of genetic information in courts

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Criminal and civil courts have begun to add a genetic dimension to the proceedings as new genetic studies offer a high probability that criminal behavior is genetically predisposed. Dr. Paul Appelbaum, who directs Columbia University's Center for Research on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic, and Behavioral Genetics, explored the ramifications of this new trend in courts and genetics. The study was reported in the June 4, 2014, edition of the journal Neuron.

A small body of research using small populations has linked some genetic traits to a higher probability that a person will commit a violent crime. The continued elucidation of genetic connections to all kinds of behavior can and probably will become a part of legal proceedings according to Dr. Paul Appelbaum. Dr. Appelbaum urges restraint in using genetic evidence as a means to adjudicate criminal and civil cases.

Genetic evidence of diminished capacity for control of oneself has resulted in the reduction of sentencing for a violent defendant by an average of one year in three cases to date. Genetic evidence may be used to prove that an accident at work was the result of disease making the company not liable for damages and the plaintiff not eligible for disability. Genetics may be used as a basis for the decision of what party is the most competent parent in divorce cases.

The decision to allow genetic evidence of any form has to date been the decision of individual judges. No national policy exists addressing the admissibility of genetic evidence in criminal or civil cases. Judges, attorneys, and prosecutors may in future be required to become genetic experts if they are to perform their tasks responsibly.

Alabama is the only state in the United States that allows the victim to be a part of the sentencing process. Considering the lack of knowledge of genetics that is required to make a decision about predisposition to criminal behavior, one can only conclude that admission of genetic evidence will increase the length of sentences in Alabama courts. The result of using genetic evidence could increase the backlog in all courts and increase the prison population in an already overburdened prison system.

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