Criminal Defense Attorneys Use Various Strategies to Help Clients on the Autism Spectrum

Criminal defense attorneys use a variety of strategies known to be useful in aggressive legal defense. Advocates for people with any form of mental illness dispute the notion that these individuals are more prone to criminal behavior, yet the rate of mental illness in prisons is about three times higher than in the general population.

The Concept of Legal Insanity

What happens when someone diagnosed with a mental illness does commit a crime? Pleading not guilty by reason of insanity is a difficult strategy. The defendant must be shown to not have understood that the action was wrong at the time or to have been unaware of what he or she was doing.

Even those who commit some of the more heinous crimes rarely are found to be legally insane. It could be argued that someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, who was responsible for some of the most disturbing actions in the history of serial killers, had to be mentally ill. Yet he apparently knew what he was doing was wrong. It should be noted that at least half of inmates diagnosed as mentally ill did not commit any type of violent crime.

Autism in the Criminal Justice System

A lawyer may be able to use a client’s developmental disorder as a defense in certain cases. A person who has been diagnosed as autistic, for instance, may have trouble with judgment. Psychologists and other mental health professionals disagree about whether people on the autism scale have a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, for instance, includes autism as a mental illness, but some other organizations do not.

An Example

Consider a young male adult on the autism spectrum who wants very much to be friends with a young lady, but she is not interested. Research has examined the tendency for some autistic individuals to become fixated on another person to the point of being accused of stalking. This can result in a protective restraining order being issued; if the young man does not stop this behavior, it can lead to a criminal charge.

A defense attorney uses proven legal strategies to have this type of charge dropped or the case dismissed. If this is not possible, a plea bargain can help the defendant avoid jail time.