Genetics, Crime and Justice
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Genetics, Crime and Justice

Debra Wilson

As our understanding of genetics increases, its use in criminal justice becomes more attractive. This timely book examines the use of genetic information both in criminal investigations and during the trial process. It discusses current scientific understanding and considers some potential legal, ethical and sociological issues with the use of genetic information. Topics include rights of privacy and consent in obtaining DNA samples, evidentiary issues in court, the impact of genetic evidence on punishment theory and sentencing, and genetic discrimination.
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Chapter 4: The ‘criminal gene’

Debra Wilson


Chapter 2 discussed the rise of the eugenics movement, and its subsequent decline following World War II. A period of relative tranquility then followed in the United States, lessening the need for eugenic thought to re-emerge. In the 1960s, however, this tranquil period ended. In the United States, crime rates increased dramatically, with the per capita rate of reported violent offences tripling between 1960 and 1978. Between 1965 and 1970, violent crime grew more than 16 per cent per year. Again, it appears that society turned to genetics to explain this. This chapter will begin by considering the first attempted return to a criminal gene argument, with XYY Syndrome. It will then discuss the growing scientific understanding of the interaction of genes and environment in understanding behavior. With this new understanding, it will consider some of the genes currently associated with criminal tendencies and discuss some of the scientific studies which attempt to understand the role genes play in the likelihood of engaging in criminal conduct. In 1956 Swedish geneticists published research concluding that the normal number of chromosomes in human cells was not 48 as was previously thought, but was in fact 46. Over the next five years, this announcement was followed by further publications of reports of individuals with chromosomal aneuploidies (additional or missing chromosomes). In 1959 individuals with 47XXY, 45X and 47XXX aneuploidies were identified, and the following year 48XXYY was discovered.

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