Criminologists also study a host of other issues related to crime and the law. These include studies of the VICTIMS OF CRIME, focusing upon their relations to the criminal, and their role as potential causal agents in crime; juvenile delinquency and its correction; and the media and their relation to crime, including the influence of PORNOGRAPHY. Much research related to criminology has focused on the biological basis of criminal behavior. In fact, a field of study called biocriminology, which attempts to explore the biological basis of criminal behavior, has emerged. Research in this area has focused on chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal and brain chemical imbalances, diet, neurological conditions, drugs, and alcohol as variables that contribute to criminal behavior.
The true effect of criminology upon practices in the criminal justice system is still subject to question. Although a number of commentators have noted that studies in criminology have led to significant changes among criminal laws in the various states, other critics have suggested that studies in criminology have not directly led to a reduction of crime.
In McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S. Ct. 1756, 95 L. Ed. 2d 262 (1987), an individual who had been sentenced to death for a murder in Georgia demonstrated to the U.S. Supreme Court that a criminologist's study showed that the race of individuals in that state impacted whether the defendant was sentenced to life or to death. The study demonstrated that a black defendant who had killed a white victim was four times more likely to be sentenced to death than was a defendant who had killed a black victim. The defendant claimed that the study demonstrated that the state of Georgia had violated his rights under the EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, as well as under the Eighth Amendment's protection against CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT.
The high court disagreed. Although the majority did question the validity of the study's findings, it held that the study did not establish that officials in Georgia had acted with discriminatory purpose, and that it did not establish that racial bias had affected the officials' decisions with respect to the death sentence. Accordingly, the death sentence violated neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the EIGHTH AMENDMENT.
Criminology has had more of an effect when states and the federal government consider new criminal laws and sentencing provisions. Criminologists' theories are also often debated in the context of the death penalty and crime control acts among legislators and policymakers. In this light, criminology is perhaps not at the forefront of the development of the criminal justice system, but it most certainly works in the background in the determination of criminal justice policies.
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