December, 2020

Dark Traits Personality Research Suggests a D-factor

Recent research conducted by a team of researchers from Germany and Denmark suggests the existence of a General Dark Factor of Personality, or “D-factor,” exists. “Dark traits” of personality – where one “consistently display[s] ethically, morally, and socially questionable behavior” in life – have been recognized in psychology and criminology, but the researchers determined the dark traits have a relationship to each other and that there exists a central dark core. Dark traits include these nine characterized in the study: egoism, Machiavellianism, moral disengagement, narcissism, psychological entitlement, psychopathy, sadism, self-interest, and spitefulness.

The determination is not unlike that made over 100 years ago by Charles Spearman, who concluded there was a general factor of human intelligence – a “g-factor” – where a person who achieves a high score on one cognitive ability test will likely score high on another, and there is an “indifference of the indicator,” meaning that a person’s cognitive abilities can be validly measured regardless of the test utilized. The researchers in the new study determined similar principles apply not only to cognitive abilities, as Spearman found, but also to human malevolence.

The researchers defined a D-factor as “the basic tendency to maximize one’s own utility (goal achievement) at the expense of others, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications for one’s malevolent behaviors.” A person scoring with a high D-factor score would not be expected, for example, to help others in need without there being some self-benefit and would not be happy in the success of others.

A self-assessment test is available through the researchers’ website (link below).

Sources: Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, “The Dark Core of Personality,” Scientific American,, July 28, 2018:
Morten Moshagen, Benjamin E. Hilbig, Ingo Zetler, “The Dark Core of Personality,” Psychological Review, July, 2018, doi: 10.1037/rev0000111:
D-factor self-assessment:

Michigan Continues to Lock Up Children for Technical Violations

A recent report, published by ProPublica Illinois and Bridge Michigan, found that in Michigan many juveniles are placed into detention for noncriminal offenses, e.g., curfew violations, truancy, and non-compliance with probationary conditions. Using data gathered by the federal government on one day in 2017, the study authors found that about 30% of the juveniles then in custody were there for noncriminal offenses; nationally, the rate of children detained for noncriminal offenses was about 17%. Most states are implementing new strategies, including the use of standardized assessments to “match youth with the most appropriate level of supervision.”

The researchers also found that precise data is difficult to compile due to Michigan not having a centralized system; juvenile justice matters are largely left to local control in the 83 counties, and processes differ in the various localities. The authors found that some progress has been made in Michigan, for example, removing the automatic adult-charging of seventeen-year-old offenders (M.C.L. 712A.2, effective October 1, 2021), but concluded that there is more reform needed and that the juvenile justice system has generally not been a priority.

Wayne County, however, has made great progress and, in 1999, established a juvenile justice system. In that year, there were 504 juveniles in detention; in 2019, there were 82. Statewide in Michigan in 1997, there were 144 juveniles in detention; in 2017, there were 210. In contrast, in Illinois in 1997, there were 396 juveniles in detention; in 2017, there were 9.

Two factors were noted as slowing necessary reform in Michigan: 1) the decentralization of the juvenile justice system, and 2) the lack of data for informed decision-making.

Sources: Jodi S. Cohen and Duaa Eldeib, “Michigan locks up children for truancy, defiance, other noncriminal acts,”, December 22, 2020:

Impact of AI and Fake Images on Memory, Behavior, and Crime

Recent studies show the increasing potential of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including machine learning (ML), for criminal exploitation. One such study, “AI-enabled future crime,” examined 20 ways AI could be used for criminal purposes in the coming years and obtained assessments of the seriousness – from low concern to high concern – of the potential harm. The researchers created the list of 20 crimes after collecting data from academic papers, current news and events, fiction, and popular culture, and then having 31 security experts – drawn from academia, the public sector (military, police, and government), and the private sector (security, computer, and crime science experts) – assess the data for potential harm during a two-day workshop, organized with the University College London, held in February 2019.

AI-enabled crime can have the greatest impact in the digital world, especially where “contemporary society is profoundly dependent on complex computational networks … People now conduct large parts of their lives online, get most of their information there, and their online activity can make and break their reputations.” The “online environment, where data is property and information power,” provides an environment where crimes may be “highly replicable,” unlike in the physical world, and the AI-enabled crime techniques can transferred, sold, and even marketed.

Six AI-enabled crimes were deemed of high concern: fake content, or ‘deepfake’ technologies; controlling driverless vehicles as weapons; individually-tailoring phishing schemes; disruption of AI-controlled systems; data-collection for large-scale blackmailing; and “AI-authored fake news.” Four factors were used to assess the severity of potential threats for each AI-enabled crime. The factors were harm (to victims or society), including terrorism; criminal profit, including financial return to the wrongdoer; terror or reputational damage; achievability, which relates to the feasibility of committing a specific crime; and defeatability, which relates to measures to detect, stop, and or render a criminal act unprofitable.

Deepfake and audio/video impersonation was determined to be the most concerning, and it was scored high in all four factors by the study participants. For example, the researchers noted that the only effective defense might be behavioral changes in the public, “such as generally distrusting visual evidence”; however, public distrust of visual evidence itself can be an additional societal harm stemming from the crime and “genuine evidence” as a result may be disbelieved.

Driverless vehicles could lead to greater vehicular terrorism, as there would be no need to recruit a driver, and multiple simultaneous attacks could be carried out. AI-enabled phishing scams could more specifically target individuals with more credible-appearing messages. AI could be used to disrupt AI-capable infrastructures, such as food distribution systems, financial institutions, and power-grids. AI-generated “fake news” was considered to be of high concern due to the potential to influence political events and to divert people from real news and replace it with fake news.

A research article by Rose Evelich, published in 2012, focused on the impact that fake images can have on memory. Ms. Evelich cited a number of studies that provide clear examples of how memories can be altered through images. One example, from the 2004 U.S. presidential race, described a photograph of U.S. Senator John Kerry seated with Jane Fonda at a Vietnam anti-war rally; the photo was widely distributed and referenced, but the photo was a fake. In another example, participants in a study were shown advertising material for Disneyland that included material of a visitor shaking hands with Bugs Bunny. About one-third of the participants later “remembered” that, when they visited Disneyland, they shook hands with Bugs Bunny. However, Bugs Bunny was a character from Warner Brothers, not Disney, and was not present at Disneyland. In another example, people participated in a gambling event with a partner, and later, the participants were shown fake footage of their partner cheating. Even though the partner did not cheat, 20% of the participants were willing to sign witness statements saying they saw their partner cheat during the event.

A memory researcher in that gambling study, Kimberly Wade, was quoted as saying that people tend to trust photographs. “We still think of them as frozen moments in time.” Additionally, people will find information more credible if it has an image with it, even if the image has no proof to support the statement. An image expert from Dartmouth College, Hany Farid, was quoted as saying, “Proving that something is fake is possible, but proving the image is authentic is virtually impossible.”

Sources: Rose Eveleth, “How fake images change our memory and behavior,”, December 12, 2012:
University College London, “‘Deepfakes‘ ranked as most serious AI crime threat,”, August 4, 2020:
M. Caldwell, J.T.A. Andrews, T. Tanay, and L.D. Griffin, “AI-enabled future crime,”, August 5, 2020:
Related: Criminal Defense Newsletter, Volume 42, Issue 11, August, 2019, p. 8:
Criminal Defense Newsletter,
Volume 43, Issue 9, June, 2020, p. 9:
Criminal Defense Newsletter,
Volume 43, Issue 11, August, 2020, p. 169:

Fewer Jury Trials Are Conducted

A recent study released by the American Bar Association Commission on the American Jury, and published in the Louisiana Law Review at Louisiana State University, found that there has been a significant decline in the number of civil and criminal cases going to trial by jury. The study surveyed 173 judges ( 70% state and 30% federal) and 1,282 attorneys (63% of whom specified they worked primarily civil cases, and 33% worked primarily criminal cases) between 2016 and 2019 and found that the majority agreed that jury trials are fairer than bench trials, and jury trials are worth the added time and cost.

However, between 1962 and 2013, the percentage of federal civil trials declined from 5.5% to 0.8%, and the percentage of criminal trials declined from 8.2% to 3.6%. The authors concluded that the decline in the number of jury trials made a jury trial “an exceptional rather than a commonplace outcome” and, in criminal cases, “[p]lea bargaining has become the primary, almost exclusive, outcome for a criminal charge.” The authors cited Justice Kennedy in Lafler v. Cooper (566 U.S. 156, 170 (2012)) who wrote: “Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas.”

In criminal cases, most judges believed that pressure on a defendant to plead guilty came from defense attorneys; 52% of defense attorneys agreed, as did 23% of prosecutors. About one-third of defense attorneys believed the pressure on a defendant to plead guilty came from prosecutors, judges, and the defendant’s family members. About 50% of the defense attorneys thought that judges pressured defendants to plead guilty; only 5% of the judges agreed. The threat of mandatory minimum sentences, as a cause to forego a jury trial, was viewed by 25.7% of prosecutors as a medium or large factor in the decision; however, about one-half of the judges and 85% of criminal defense attorneys viewed mandatory minimum sentences as being a medium or large factor in waiving a jury. 

The authors suggested four factors that should be changed to increase the number of cases going to trial: removing or increasing damage caps in civil cases, eliminating mandatory arbitration, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, and reforming sentencing guidelines.

Sources: “Study: Why civil and criminal jury trials are disappearing,”, December 21, 2020:
Shari Seidman Diamond and Jessica M. Salerno, “Reasons for the Disappearing Jury Trial: Perspectives from Attorneys and Judges,” Louisiana Law Review, Volume 81, Number 1, Fall 2020:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor