Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System

Most individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) never interact with the criminal justice system and are more likely to be victims of crime than commit crimes. However, people with ASD are seven times more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system than those without the disorder.

People with ASD who get in trouble with the law may not even realize that they have committed a crime. Actions such as inappropriate sexual advances, threats, aggressive behavior, stalking, and involvement as an accomplice with false friends can definitely lead to situations that would seem to deserve criminal punishment. But this assumption fails to take into account the unique challenges faced by someone with ASD.

Interactions with Criminal Justice Professionals

Individuals with ASD may have some behaviors that predispose them to criminal charges. Lack of social and communication skills, some degree of naivete, aggression triggered by a disruption in routine or social misunderstanding, and obsessive behavior can all lead to alleged involvement in criminal behavior. Positive interactions with law enforcement could help curb some of these issues. Tools such as autism ID cards and special training for law enforcement could help prevent interactions from escalating and leading to criminal charges.

Once in the criminal justice system, people with ASD Social and communication issues such as failing to make eye contact can lead criminal justice professionals to believe that someone with ASD is being deceitful. A lack of communication or failure to respond to questions can be seen as rude and disrespectful. In addition, standard interrogation techniques can confuse someone with ASD and lead to misleading statements and false confessions. Inappropriate laughter or a loud vocal tone could lead to a judge believing that someone with ASD is a guilty and remorseless person. Criminal justice professionals across the board should be trained on how to respond to individuals with ASD.

Sentencing Considerations

Sometimes it is clear that the person with ASD did commit the crime in question. Depending on the situation, diversion programs or a probation program may be the right solution. However, people with ASD can have issues complying with such traditional probation programs. A person with ASD may not be able to sit through a group therapy session or communicate personal information. Consideration of the challenges faced by a person with ASD should be taken into account when crafting an appropriate sentence.

If a person with ASD is sent to jail, they face risks to their safety due to their symptoms. Corrections officers and other inmates may see the person with ASD as rude and uncontrollable. Corrections professionals should receive proper training on how to prevent negative interactions with inmates with ASD.

If you or a loved one with a mental disability has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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