Is Criminal Behavior Due to Nature and Genetics or Is it Nurtured Through the Environment? Term Paper

Pages: 24 (6507 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 74  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Criminal Behaviour

Chapter I Introduction

Review of Researched Considerations

Chapter III Conclusion


Very simply, the law treats man's conduct as autonomous and willed, not because it is, but because it is desirable to proceed as if it were."

Not So Simple

Has the jury reached a verdict?"

Yes and no, your Honor. Although we, the jury, acknowledge the defendant did commit the crime and deserves a 'guilty' verdict, we find the defendant 'not guilty', as we do not feel he should not be held accountable for his criminal behavior. Due to evidence presented regarding his genetic make-up, along with evidence revealing the defendant experienced a horrendous environment while growing up, we are convinced his actions were beyond his ability to control them. His genetic make-up and environmental background eroded his ability to behave in response to his free will." Although the introductory anecdote serves as a satirical depiction of a not likely to occur experience, some scientists argue that, "due to their genetic make-up and environmental background, some individuals "may be less able to refrain from breaking the law than others."

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Along with recent investigations in the field of genetics, which challenge the theoretical assumption of individual, voluntary choice regarding criminal behavior, evidence citing that environmental factors contribute to criminal behavior also routinely arises. In the 2005 journal article, the "Abuse Excuse" in Capital Sentencing Trials: Is it Relevant to Responsibility, Punishment, or Neither?, for example, Litton recounts a poignant account of one man convicted and sentenced to prison for his criminal behavior.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Is Criminal Behavior Due to Nature and Genetics or Is it Nurtured Through the Environment? Assignment

He]... was beaten nearly every day of his young life with a switch from a tree or with a belt, was regularly locked in his room, where his parents had removed the handles from the door and installed several locks on the outside of the door and boarded up all the windows. They would leave him in there for days at a time, forcing him to urinate and defecate on the bedroom floor, something for which he would then be punished. He cried and begged to be let out and would become so claustrophobic that he almost asphyxiated several times from the panic attacks that he experienced. The punishment only escalated. As he got older his parents made him do pushups while they held a hunting knife under his chest, as motivation to keep him from faltering.

Litton argues that children, such as the defendant presented in the above account, who are severely abused and neglected, tend to be more likely to commit violent crimes as adults. In a trial, he stresses, jurors can benefit from hearing evidence that can provide a psychological look into the defendant's past. In turn, jurors are empowered to make more knowledgeable decisions.

The Supreme Court has held, Litton reports, that capital defendants have a right to present evidence of their childhood and that their Sixth Amendment right to counsel requires their attorneys make reasonable investigations into their background, unless it is reasonable not to.

Part of the Human Condition

Researchers who investigate causes of criminal behaviour regularly arrive at conclusions that may counter or complement those Litton purports. In the 2006 journal article, Revisiting the Legal Link between Genetics and Crime, Denno challenges the common stereotype of an individual's "genotype" or "genetic constitution" being static, that a "crime gene" that "hard-wires" particular individuals to participate in criminal behaviours. He argues that although this contention proves popular in public, it does not elicit concrete scientific support. Instead, Denno argues, "an overwhelming amount of evidence shows that "environments influence gene expression."

Despite research challenges and differing stances regarding evidence presented in the courtroom, the study of crime, as well as, "digging" for root causes of criminal behavior continues to be a part of the human condition. "Criminology," defined as "the study of crime, criminal behavior, and its prevention, has been a part of the human condition since Cain murdered his brother, Abel."

In light of this human condition, along with the contemporary debate regarding whether genetics or environment cause criminal behavior, the hypothesis for this study contends: If criminal behavior cannot be attributed solely to an individual's genetic make-up or entirely to his/her environmental influences, then criminal behavior stems from multiple roots. As this researcher aims to confirm the validity of this study's hypothesis, the following research questions contributing to this contention, help keep the focus for this study intact.

How does a person's genetic make-up impact criminal behavior?

Does an individual's environment contribute to his/her likelihood to engage in criminal behavior?

What "roots" do research suggest potentially stimulate growth of criminal behavior in an individual?

Since the late nineteenth century, at least, courts and prisons appeared to attempt "to discriminate between the innately criminal and those who acted merely by force of circumstance, whose crimes would not pose a future danger to society," Beecher-Monas and Garcia-Ril report.

Predictions of an individual's future criminal behavior, consequently has became a vital focus for the criminal justice system. As a result, this consideration currently dominates death penalty sentencing determinations, as well as, sexually violent predators' commitment proceedings. Even though some researchers argued in the past that genetics do not impact the shaping of antisocial and criminal behavior, increasing research findings serve to corroborate that genetic factors prove as vital to some forms of criminal activity's development as environmental factors. Too many past and current studies in numerous countries, utilizing a variety of methodologies, "converge on the same conclusion," Owen D. Jones argues, to deny the fact that in regard to human behavior: "genes do play a role."

Other, likely less controversial, fields of behavioural trait research identified heritability of numerous psychiatric disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and reading disability. In addition, personality traits such as political conservatism are noted as heritable. Criminal behavior, specifically recidivistic crime, researchers expect, is also influenced genetic factors, in some manner. During this study effort, this researcher aims to explore literature by those who perceive behavioral genetics causes criminal behavior, along with those who purport environmental components to contribute to the cause, as well as, those researchers who argue that neither serves as the concrete cause. The end result of attributing a trait solely to genetic factors suggests more consideration ought to be attributed the weight carried by choices individuals make, and not take the "blame away from environmental factors created by society."

Reasonable Investigations

In the journal article, Misinformation, Misrepresentation, and Misuse of Human Behavioral Genetics Research, Kaplan (2006) notes: "Researchers interested in understanding either the causes of variation in human behaviors or how human behaviors develop are at a disadvantage compared to researchers interested in answering similar questions associated with nonhuman organisms."

Reasons include:

Ethical restrictions on human experimentation make a number of experiments, standard in other model organisms, impossible to perform on humans.

Human development constitutes a slower process than that of traditional model organisms, such as nematode worms, fruit-flies, mice, etc., utilized in behavior studies.

As Caitlin Jones examines the different functions that genetics and the environment play in the criminal behavior of individuals, he notes that research states: "it is more often an interaction between genes and the environment that predicts criminal behavior. Having a genetic predisposition for criminal behavior does not determine the actions of an individual, but if they are exposed to the right environment, then their chances are greater for engaging in criminal or anti-social behavior."

Chapter II: Review of Researched Considerations trait can have a heritability of one hundred percent in one developmental environment, but a heritability of zero percent in another."

Research Rationale and/or Reasons Along with humans having a longer lifespan, Kaplan notes as one of the reasons "researchers interested in understanding either the causes of variation in human behaviors or how human behaviors develop are at a disadvantage compared to researchers interested in answering similar questions associated with nonhuman organisms," the gamut of human behavior is larger, with individual's behaviors of interest generally more complex than those of other model organisms. Despite these disadvantages, active research programs in human behavioral genetics reportedly continue to improve. As Kaplan studies a sampling of limits of human behavioral genetics research, he particularly focuses especially on ways these limits affect the reasonableness of three research interpretations, along with ensuing results of studies.

Basically, Kaplan notes, numerous factors contribute to developmental environments. They may be inherited from the persons' ancestors, found in the world, or created by the person. Human behavioral genetics research focuses on the variations in human behavioral tendencies and questions whether people, more prone to violent behavior, likely carry the same genes. Some researchers interested in behaviors, such as languages, that do not vary significantly, and develop regardless of environment, wrestle with the dilemma of how specific traits are produced in normal development. Kaplan's study aims to discover particular pathways and biological systems that control behavior such as, genes and environment, with universal outcomes. In their 2003 qualitative study of binge drinking among 18- to 24-year-olds, entitled Drunk and disorderly, Engineer, Phillips, Renuka, Thompson, and Nicholls stress: "The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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