I have been a practicing attorney for over twenty years at this point. I handle a wide variety of matters, including family law and criminal law. These areas include divorce, custody, child support, domestic violence, misdemeanors, felonies and DUIs. I also handle appellate work. I think a major key to my job is not only understanding the law, but understanding my clients.
Recently, we had a complex criminal law matter involving a defendant with autism. The case was not only complex due to the nature of the charges and the facts, law and procedure surrounding them, but also due to the fact that our client was on “The Spectrum.” As an aside, I hate labels for these things, but they do become necessary for a generalized understanding of the topic.
In handling this matter, it became clear that our client's condition played a very significant role tied into the alleged criminal behavior. We had to fully understand him and how HE sees the world in order to best represent him. Experts from various states around the country became involved and tied together a picture of an individual who experiences the world in a vastly different way than most people. The way his brain works helped explain the lack of “typical” criminality in his actions.
Understanding where our clients are at and what their experiences are and have been is vital in our representation of them. Very briefly, let me let you delve into how a person with autism may be seen by law enforcement (as an aside, this did not happen in the particular case we handled, but is a good explanation):
Police pull up to an alleged crime scene, sirens and lights going. They see a person in the street, walking in circles, engaged in odd movements and talking to themselves. “This person is high or nuts,” the officer might logically conclude.
Nope, this person is autistic. They very well could have witnessed a crime or been a victim of the crime itself. All of the trauma has caused them to feel unsafe and panicked. This is not their known. Put on top of that the sirens and lights and we have a recipe for significant upheaval.
You see, may people with autism have a severe sensitivity to lights and sounds. They also like structure and routine. All of this has been stripped away. This person is not nuts. The repetitive movements are a self-soothing attempt as is the mumbling. The erratic behavior is due to the noise, lights and trauma. They are on system overload, all thanks to how their brain processes the world. There is a way to help them back, but it takes knowledge and recognition.
This applies to all circumstances. Understanding the person (including, in family law cases, the other side) is critical to handling the case. At Franklin & Rapp, we strive to practice that in our approach to every case that we handle.
Franklin & Rapp
1001 Monarch St., Suite 120
Lexington, KY 40507