Autism Spectrum Disorders as a Defense or Mitigation In Federal and State Criminal Cases
Studies show that individuals who are on the autism spectrum are disproportionately victimized by crime. Sadly, adults who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are also frequently arrested and charged with committing criminal offenses such as child pornography, solicitation of a minor, and a variety of other state and federal cybercrimes involving sex offenses.
At Haas Law, we understand how ASD can significantly impact a person’s understanding of the law as well as social norms. We are also keenly aware that individuals with autism interact with people and the world around them in a unique way. All these common autism characteristics must be considered when advocating on behalf of and defending an accused in a criminal prosecution who is on the autism spectrum. If you or a loved one have been charged with a criminal offense and you have been diagnosed with ASD, you need an experienced autism defense lawyer on your side to protect you and your rights.
What Is Autism?
To understand why individuals living with ASD frequently face criminal prosecution for cyber sex offenses, you must first understand more about people living with ASD. Autism is a complex developmental and behavioral disorder that typically begins to show signs in early childhood. Children with autism exhibit abnormal behavior in three broad areas, including:
- Communication. This may include speech delays, a general inability to communicate effectively, or a complete lack of verbal communication.
- Social interaction. Children with autism have a difficult (if not impossible) time connecting with other people.
- Repetitive behavior. This involves a narrow focus on something (even obsession) coupled with repetitive behavior.
Even with early intervention and a lifetime of therapy, individuals living with ASD tend to continue to exhibit these behaviors in adulthood. Adults on the high-functioning end of the spectrum can live independent, successful lives; however, autism is not something that can be “cured.” As such, an individual who is on the spectrum will almost always carry these core traits into adulthood. Unfortunately, these very traits may lead to violating state and/or federal laws aimed at preventing child pornography and other sex crimes involving the internet.
What Crimes Might Someone with Autism Be Accused of Committing?
An individual with ASD can be accused of committing any criminal offense; however, child pornography and related cybercrimes are among the most common accusations involving a defendant with autism. The reasons for this are both complex and simple. They are complex because every person with ASD has a unique set of traits, behaviors, and characteristics attributed to autism. In addition, because autism is a spectrum disorder, the hallmark traits of autism may be obvious or barely noticeable to others. On the other hand, the reasons are simple when you consider that an individual with autism may have a high intellectual IQ yet a childlike emotional/social IQ. This leads to several factors that often contribute to people with autism getting arrested for child pornography and related crimes, including:
- A tendency toward social isolation
- Having the physical and sexual curiosity of an adult but the emotional maturity of a child
- Lack of age-appropriate sexual/health education
- An inability to understand social norms and boundaries
- A lack of understanding that what they are doing is wrong
- An obsession with pictures/videos they find on the internet
Federal and State Child Pornography Laws
Both federal and state laws prohibit a wide variety of activity that falls under the definition of child pornography. At the federal level, 18 U.S.C. § 2251 et seq. prohibits the production, distribution, reception, and possession of an image of child pornography using or affecting any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce. In the State of Florida, Florida Statutes 847.0135 et seq. governs child pornography making it illegal to possess, distribute, transmit, and manufacture child pornography. If convicted of child pornography or a related offense, you could face a lengthy prison sentence along with being required to register as a sex offender for life.
How Can an Orlando Autism Defense Lawyer Help Me?
If you (or a loved one) have been accused of child pornography or a related offense, and you have autism, it is in your best interest to get an experienced autism defense lawyer involved immediately. The prosecution must prove that a defendant had the requisite intent to successfully prosecute a criminal case and secure a conviction. An experienced autism defense attorney may be able to show that because of your autism you could not have formed the necessary intent.
Autism often directly impacts a defendant’s ability to understand the lawfulness and/or social “rightness” of his/her actions. That inability should be considered as a mitigating factor if a conviction is unavoidable, and the issue of sentencing becomes the focus. In fact, the 2018 Federal Sentencing Guidelines directly acknowledge that when a defendant’s mental capacity contributes substantially to the commission of the offense, a shorter sentence may be warranted.
At Haas Law, our attorneys have experience handling state and federal prosecutions involving defendants with autism. We are committed to using our resources and skills to aggressively protect and defend you if you have been accused of committing a child pornography (or related) criminal offense.
Call us at 407-755-7675, chat with us online, or submit our online form today. Because we understand that time is of the essence when federal law enforcement authorities are investigating you, our calls are answered 24 hours a day, allowing you to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.