July 6, 2022

Expert warns of misuse of genetic evidence in courtroom

Prominent medical law commentator Paul S. Appelbaum has warned of the misuse of genetic evidence in courtrooms. In an article published in Neuron earlier this month, Appelbaum noted that there has been a modest increase in the use of ‘genetic arguments’ in US jurisdictions in the past twenty years. He challenged the view that genetic evidence provides a ‘genuinely excusing condition.

Prominent medical law commentator Paul S. Appelbaum has warned of the misuse of genetic evidence in courtrooms. In an article published in Neuron earlier this month, Appelbaum noted that there has been a modest increase in the use of ‘genetic arguments’ in US jurisdictions in the past twenty years. He challenged the view that genetic evidence provides a ‘genuinely excusing condition’:

“Many defendants experience pressures to commit criminal acts—from peer encouragement to the disinhibiting effect of intoxicating substances—but in general we expect them to resist the urge to act illegally or suffer the consequences. Unless a defendant’s genetic endowment substantially impairs her ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct or to obey the requirements of the law, genetic influences may simply be one more pressure that she is expected to resist.” 

Appelbaum warned that judges could presume a genetic basis for criminal action even when no reliable evidence has been provided (he cites the case of U.S. v. Cossey, 632 F.3d 82, 2d Cir. 2011). A more common occurrence would be for judges or juries to overestimate the conclusions that can be drawn from genetic evidence.

“It will be an ongoing challenge for both legal and genetic experts to monitor the use of genetic data in the courts to ensure that the conclusions drawn validly reflect the science.”

Expert warns of misuse of genetic evidence in courtroom
Xavier Symons
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Creative commons
biolaw
genetic determinism