Judiciary views on criminal behaviour and intention of offenders with high-functioning autism
Colleen M. Berryessa
Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour
– The purpose of this paper is to explore how judges perceive High Functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorders (hfASDs) and the disorders’ effects on an offender's ability to formulate criminal intent and control behaviour.
– Semi-structured interviews on topics related to offenders with hfASDs were conducted with 21 California Superior Court Judges. A coding scheme was developed and an iterative qualitative coding process was used for analysis.
– Analysis yielded three major themes on how an hfASD diagnosis affects an offender's ability to regulate actions and criminal behaviour. Interviewed judges reported beliefs that hfASD offenders view the world in a different way and that much of their behaviour is not under their direct control. Judges reported these perceptions likely affect how they criminally process and make legal decisions regarding offenders with hfASDs.
– The sample size was small and therefore no statistical significance can be drawn from results; findings cannot be applied to perceptions or experiences of the entire California Superior Court Judge population.
– Past academic research reports that individuals with hfASDs that offend often do so because of specific symptoms associated with the disorder. This presents a complex dilemma for the criminal justice system regarding how best to understand the disorder and process these offenders. This study and its findings aim to shed light on issues judges encounter in determining these offenders’ responsibility and sentencing, in what ways this information might be integrated into judicial decision making, and areas where future research is needed.