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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Autism as Mitigating and Aggravating Factor in Criminal Justice

At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Colleen M. Berryessa has a brief report titled "Judicial Attitudes Regarding the Sentencing of Offenders with High Functioning Autism." The abstract:
This brief report presents preliminary data on the attitudes of judges on the sentencing of offenders with High Functioning Autism (HFA). Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with twenty-one California Superior Court Judges. Interviews were qualitatively coded and constant comparative analysis was utilized. Findings revealed that judges consider HFA as both a mitigating and aggravating factor in sentencing, and knowledge of an offender’s disorder could potentially help judges understand why a criminal action might have been committed. Judges voiced concerns about the criminal justice system being able to effectively help or offer sentencing options for offenders with HFA. Finally, judges reported that they are focused on using their judicial powers and influence to provide treatment and other resources during sentencing.
From the article:
Overall, nine judges talked about HFA as a potential mitigating factor in sentencing; the large majority of judges that believed HFA would be a potential mitigating factor questioned if an offender’s actions would be completely willful or if his criminal intent would be potentially influenced by the symptoms of the condition (see Berryessa 2014b). One judge, regarding HFA, stated, ‘‘I think it mitigates sentencing and I think it helps put it in perspective to all of the parties in terms of how we can best help this individual’’ (Interview 7).

Three judges described HFA as a potential aggravating factor, as an individual’s inability to control his behavior may be an inherent danger and threat to himself, others, and public safety. One judge, commenting on HFA, said, ‘‘I think it would be a detriment to [offenders] in future cases. Judges are going to be concerned because they’re more likely to re-offend’’ (Interview 5). In general, these judges believed that diagnosis with HFA may lead some to believe that the impulse control problems associated with the disorder will lead to dangerous behavior or offending in the future, which can negatively influence sentencing.
Berryessa, C. M. (2014a). Judicial perceptions of media portrayals of offenders with high functioning autistic spectrum disorders. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 3(1), 45–60.
Berryessa, C. M. (2014b). Judiciary views on criminal behaviour and intention of offenders with high-functioning autism. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, 5(2), 97–106.
Berryessa, C. M. (in press). Judges’ views on evidence of genetic contributions to mental disorders in court. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. doi:10.1080/14789949.2016.1173718