Genetics and Criminal Justice

Stephen J. Morse, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

In The Oxford Handbook of Molecular Psychology (Turhan Canli ed., Oxford 2015)


This essay addresses the relevance of genetic data, including gene-by-environment interactions, to criminal responsibility and sentencing. After describing the criminal law’s implicit psychology and criteria for responsibility, it considers the present and future contributions genetics may make. It suggests that, at present, genetics should not play a large role in the adjudication of individual cases unless it translates directly into the law’s folk psychological criteria for responsibility, which it seldom does. Future discoveries may increase the usefulness of genetics to rational adjudication, however. The role of genetics at sentencing may be somewhat more promising, especially concerning the prediction of future behavior.