Sentencing Study Finding: Calling Defendant A Psychopath Adds 5 Years


To figure out which interpretation of biological explanations is more powerful in our criminal justice system, University of Utah faculty members sent 181 judges a description of a convicted criminal that was based in a Georgia case of a man killing a pizza-shop manager. NPR reports that the judges were told that the criminal was a diagnosed psychopath, but half of the judges got additional information from a neurobiologist — a detailed explanation of the biological basis for psychopathy.

A study published yesterday in the journal Science found that simply using the term psychopath adds an average of five years to criminal sentences, but once the biological explanation was included, the length of the sentence dropped. “It did create a significant reduction in sentencing,” says psychologist Lisa Aspinwall, “from 14 years on average without the biological mechanism, to just about 13 years on average.”

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