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Genes and behaviour

Can criminals blame their genes? Is IQ or sexuality genetically determined? Annabel Gillings says that recent advances in genetics have increased our understanding of the biological basis of behaviour, but environmental influence remains vital too

By Annabel Gillings   October 1996

In 1994, Stephen Mobley, confessor to a cold-blooded murder, was the first to offer genetic evidence in mitigation in a court of law in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite a privileged homelife, Mobley’s family tree showed four generations of violence; his attorneys argued that his crime could be attributed to his genetic make-up. The court rejected the claim. But the introduction of genetic defence into the courtroom was an important step for both law and genetics.

The defence was based upon the discovery of a “criminal gene” in a Dutch family. Although the family was large and living across different regions of…

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