Judges and juries both across the United States and in other countries who decide that a crime is “depraved,” “heinous,” or “horrible” can assign more severe sentences. Yet there is no standardized definition for such dramatic words that courts already use. And while we may all recognize that some crimes truly separate themselves from others, there is no standard, fair way to distinguish crimes that are the worst of the worst, or “evil.”
To minimize the arbitrariness of how courts determine the worst of crimes, and to eliminate bias in sentencing, the Depravity Scale research aims to establish societal standards of what makes a crime depraved, and to develop a standardized instrument based on specific characteristics of a crime that must be proven in order to merit more severe sentences.
This research will refine into the Depravity Standard, an objective measure based on forensic evidence. This instrument distinguishes not who is depraved but rather, what aspects of a given crime are depraved and the degree of a specific crime’s depravity. The research will enhance fairness in sentencing, given that it is race, gender and socio-economic blind.
The research has already been guided by legal and scientific study. Now, a two-part survey has been developed to involve the general public in establishing societal standards of what makes a crime depraved. The first part enables the general public to shape the specific intents, actions, and attitudes that should be included as items of the Depravity Standard instrument, and the second involves the general public in refining the relative weight of these items. In both surveys, all members of the general public are urged to participate. This is the first project ever developed that invites citizens’ direct input to forensic science research, and the first project ever developed in which citizens shape future criminal sentencing standards.