As criminal defense attorneys, we are often retained to represent young adults accused of various crimes ranging from possession of child pornography to sexual assault and/or rape. We have found that many of these young adults present with a host of emotional and mental health challenges. In particular, we represent many young adults with Autism, as well as other mental health disorders like schizophrenia, depression and severe learning deficits, who are charged with internet crimes. Our first priority as autism criminal defense attorneys is to educate ourselves about the mental health and neurological challenges of our clients and to collaborate with families in this endeavor.
Parents are devastated by the criminal allegations lodged against their child (who may be an adult legally). When working with families, we often encounter commonalities in how they respond. First, they want to find Autism Attorneys or Special Education Lawyers who understand how their child’s disabilities impacted choices and behavior. Second, parents want to help as much as possible to help build an autism defense.
How Can Parents of Autistic Children Charged With Crimes Help Their Defense?
Here’s how parents can play a large role in helping the criminal defense attorney have what is necessary to present an autism defense.
1. Gather All Necessary Documents:
Criminal defense attorneys (even those that specialize in autism defense) will need records. Parents should consider creating a binder with those documents that will aid the criminal defense. Lawyers should review old Multi-Factored Evaluations (or Evaluation Team Report) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs). MFE reports summarize the findings of tests administered by the school district’s psychologist to determine whether a student has a disability that qualifies for special education and related services. These evaluations are used to develop the IEPs for the student. Likewise, parents should provide relevant medical records and any outside psychological testing conducted on their child. Lawyers will want to know what medications are – or have been – taken and whether the child has been compliant with those medications.
Along with medical records, parents should provide other school records that document social history and/or discipline. Lawyers will need to know about suspensions, expulsions and any prior criminal history. Moreover, try to document the social history of the child- did they make friends easily, have they had dating experiences, and how are they with siblings and other family members?
2. Help Arrange for Your Child to Stay Busy
Staying busy is often the key to enduring the seemingly endless months of a criminal case. Moreover, courts want to know that accused individuals are being productive members of society. Do not let your child stay home during this time. We suggest helping the child to get a job, take classes, and if possible, spend time volunteering with a favorite charity or religious institution.
3. Help Your Child Stay Healthy
Every day we get calls from parents worried sick over their child’s struggles with depression and anxiety, which is normal when being accused of something that can result in incarceration. Just like we recommend that parents help their son or daughter stay busy, we encourage parents to arrange for mental health support during this time. We recommend that counselling appointments are arranged. We also tell parents to encourage sleep (but not too much), a healthy diet and exercise. Sadly, we often remind parents that they cannot and should not talk about the case with their child. There is no parent-child privilege, and the worst complication in a case would arise if a parent is called to testify against their own child. So, we recommend providing a healthy, loving environment that does NOT result in conversation about the case.
4. Remove or Block Internet Access for Those Accused of Crimes Involving Technology
We know that young adults spend most of their time on their devices. In particular, it is not uncommon for students on the spectrum to be obsessed with technology. Indeed, we have cases that involve internet crimes where the FBI or other law enforcement agencies obtain warrants and seize computers, laptops and cell phones. In cases where the criminal charges center on accessing illegal material online, parents must not allow their child to have access to technology. It’s just too risky. For those students who need a cell phone, we recommend a non-smart phone.
5. Convey Love
Throughout the investigation, your autism criminal defense attorneys might share terrible news about the allegations lodged against your child. The news might be shocking and an unimaginable nightmare. Yet, no matter what, convey love and support during these dark hours. Somehow, darkness passes and even if there is some time that a person is either placed in a mental health facility or prison, that person will require family love.
Don’t wait to Contact an Attorney
If you or a loved one is disabled and facing a criminal charge, please don’t hesitate to contact either of us. It’s vitally important to secure a competent lawyer when facing criminal proceedings. We are lawyers for autistic adults and special education attorney experienced helping disabled adults and children facing criminal charges, who understand that this is a sensitive issue and work to ensure the best outcome for our clients.