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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Autistic Defendants: Judges' Toolkit

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between the justice system and autistic people.

 At Drexel Law Review, Colleen M. Berryessa has an article titled "Defendants With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Criminal Court: A Judges' Toolkit."  The abstract:

This Article acts as a toolkit for members of the judiciary on defendants with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and specifically looks to equip judges with knowledge, evidence, and resources on recognizing and understanding symptoms of ASD in order to better identify and evaluate diagnosed defendants and their offending behavior. This will allow judges to have impactful and beneficial interactions with defendants, potentially make appropriate procedural and sentencing adjustments before and during the legal process, and better ensure more positive and appropriate legal outcomes for defendants with ASD. First, this Article discusses ways in which judges can identify defendants with ASD in court by recognizing and understanding both distinctive characteristics of offending and courtroom behavior that may be exhibited in cases involving defendants with ASD. Second, recognizing the limited previous research on judges’ understanding of ASD’s legal relevance, this Article provides judges guidance on three aspects of the legal process in which ASD may be forensically significant for defendants: fitness to stand trial, negating criminal elements necessary for criminal liability, and sentencing decisions. Finally, this Article puts forth recommendations for judges in order to improve the legal process for defendants with ASD.

From the article:

In order to tackle complicated cases involving more technical knowledge, existing research across a variety of topical areas increasingly suggests the need for judicial training and  education in cases involving complex and scientific subject matter that is likely outside of a judge’s wheelhouse.155 Judicial training on ASD is no different, and should cover both legallyrelevant and clinical facets, such as symptomology, offending, implications for sentencing, and best practices for judges and other legal professionals. Ultimately, judges must be equipped with appropriate awareness, evidence, and resources to be able to recognize and understand the symptoms of ASD and to better identify and communicate with diagnosed defendants. Not only does this allow for judges to make appropriate accommodations in the legal process, but a more holistic understanding of ASD’s forensic relevance to each aspect of the legal process will maximize positive outcomes and legal consequences for defendants with ASD in our criminal court system.

155. E.g., Colleen M. Berryessa, Judges’ Views on Evidence of Genetic Contributions to Mental Disorders in Court, 27 J. FORENSIC PSYCHIATRY & PSYCH. 586 (2016); Colleen M. Berryessa, Potential Impact of Research on Adolescent Development on Juvenile Judge DecisionMaking, 69 JUV. & FAM. CT. J. 19 (2018); Colleen M. Berryessa, Judicial Stereotyping Associated with Genetic Essentialist Biases Toward Mental Disorders and Potential Negative Effects on Sentencing, 53 L. & SOC’Y REV. 202 (2018); Colleen M. Berryessa & Jillian Reeves, The Perceptions of Juvenile Judges Regarding Adolescent Development in Evaluating Juvenile Competency, 110 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 550 (2020)