Defending Someone on the Autism Spectrum Who Has Been Charged With a Crime

While there is not necessarily a link between being on the autism spectrum and likelihood to commit a crime, people who are on the spectrum do get arrested and charged with crimes. Depending on the person, someone on the autism spectrum can struggle to appropriately respond to or control strong emotions, and they can sometimes behave in ways that are more likely to bring the attention of law enforcement.

For someone on the autism spectrum, being charged with a crime is an intensely scary experience. Being on the autism spectrum doesn’t prevent a person from being arrested by the police, taken to jail, made to go to court, and facing long-term consequences. Many people involved with the criminal justice system don’t even have an understanding of the behaviors associated with being on the autism spectrum, and don’t know how to treat a person who is engaging in those behaviors.

What should you do if someone you love who is on the autism spectrum has been charged with a crime?

Find a defense attorney with experience in defending someone on the autism spectrum, or help to educate their defense attorney about autism.

The reality of the situation is that when someone who is on the autism spectrum has been charged with a crime, it is important that the everyone involved with the case become educated about what that means. That means that by the end of the case, the police, the prosecutor, the complainant, and the judge need to be educated about the autism spectrum and the impact on the person charged with a crime, as well as the impact on punishment and rehabilitation.

The reason for starting with the criminal defense attorney is that they will have to be the person that will be educating the rest of the people involved in the case. So, it is ideal to work with someone who has experience in defending someone who is on the autism spectrum, so you’re not starting from square one.

Sometimes, however, hiring someone with experience in defending someone on the autism spectrum simply isn’t possible. Sometimes there is a court-appointed attorney involved who just doesn’t have the prior experience with a client who has autism. In that instance, you’ve got to start from scratch in educating the defense attorney. However, even in cases where an attorney has prior experience with defending clients who are on the autism spectrum, you’ll need to educate them about the specific needs and behaviors of the person that you love.

Help provide an alternative to incarceration.

Depending on the seriousness of the crime that your loved one is accused of committing, incarceration may be possible, either before or after a conviction.

First, if your loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime, they will be held in jail until they can post bond. For a person on the autism spectrum, being in jail can be especially difficult. The surroundings are unfamiliar and cold, and the employees at the jail won’t be particularly sensitive to any issues related to being on the autism spectrum. Your priority, before even hiring an attorney, should be to try to post bond for your loved one so that they don’t have to remain in the jail while the case is pending.

If you are unable to post bond, or bond is denied by the judge, it is important that you hire an attorney who can regularly visit with your loved one at the jail, and help them to cope with the circumstances as best they can.

Second, if your loved one has been convicted of a crime, after a plea or a jury trial, and sentencing is coming, look for alternatives to incarceration that you might be able to help provide, such as an inpatient program that can provide help to someone on the autism spectrum. Judges are open to alternative ways to solve problems, especially if they are educated about the underlying issues associated with autism.

Keeley Blanchard has experience in defending clients on the autism spectrum who have been charged with a crime. If she can help you or your loved one through the criminal justice system, contact her at Blanchard Law today.

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