Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Murder Gene Definition:

A DNA genetic variant that, some scientists propose, predisposes an individual to berserk violence.

Related Terms: DNA

This is not a scientific or forensic expert term per se but is a term made popular by the media to refer to particular variant of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene which apparently predisposes an individual to disproportionate violence under any condition that triggers the carrier of that gene sequence to violence.

As referred to in Mobley v State, "a possible genetic basis for violent and impulsive behavior in certain individuals."

Also known as the rage gene and even more commonly, the warrior gene because of the theory that persons with this gene would likely have been the most efficient: berserk warriors on a field of battle.

the murder geneThe murder gene, the theory goes, suggests that behavior and activities from infancy into childhood, and through adulthood, were not the products of free will as society defines this term because the individual lacked the ability to make non-impulsive, considered choices about his life's path.1

Authors Ishikawa and Raine suggest, in their 2002 article, that though then viewed by the courts as exotic evidence:

"There are simply too many studies, in too many countries, using different methodologies that converge on the same conclusion: genes do play a role. Second, other, potentially less controversial fields of behavioral trait research have not only identified heritability in psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and reading disability, but also in personality traits such as political conservatism.

"Thus, it would be surprising if criminal behavior - particularly recidivistic crime - was not in some way influenced by genetic factors."


  • Duhaime Lloyd, Killer by Design?
  • Hagerty, Barbara, Can Your Genes Make You Murder?, National Public Radio, July 1, 2010
  • Ishikawa, S., and Raine, A., & Adrian Raine, Behavioral Genetics and Crime, The Neurobiology of Criminal Behavior 81, 81-82 (2002); quoted by Jones, Owen, op. cit. at page 83-84.
  • Landrigan v. Stewart, 272 F. 3d 1221 (2001)
  • Mobley v. Head, 267 F. 3d 1312 (2001)
  • Ngo, Tiffany, Professor Looks Into Use of 'Murder Gene' in Justice System, The State Press, 26 APR 2011
  • NOTE 1: Jones, Owen D., Behavioral Genetics and Crime, in Context, 68 Law & Contemp. Probs. 81 (2006); at page 83 re Landrigan.

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!