Well Being

Autistic Defendants Often Misunderstood In Criminal Justice System

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20-year-old Kevin Brinegar, who has autism, stabbed his mother, Karen Brinegar, twice in the back last Monday, the September 21st Miami Herald reports. He is charged with aggravated battery charges and is being held on a $50,000 bond at North Broward Bureau (FL), a minimum-security facility for the mentally ill and medically infirm. Expert and legal opinions vary about what Kevin Brinegar faces:

Dr. Stephen Edelson, director of the Autism Research Institute, expressed concern about the level of care Brinegar has received, and will receive in the future.

”There's a general feeling that in the criminal justice field, there's some discrimination going on,” Edelson said.

“They are not treated fairly.”

Also, police often don't understand those with autism or know how to handle them, thinking they are more predatory than they actually are, said University of Miami Professor Jon Shaw.

There is no predictable relationship between autism and violence, Shaw said. In two-thirds of cases, autism is accompanied by mental retardation and an inability to communicate, and that is often what triggers aggression.

Some also cannot differentiate between what is real and what is not, he added.

Usually, they act out by pushing, biting or hitting. But to chase someone out of a home, hold her down and stab her twice, as BSO alleges Brinegar did, almost never happens.

”It's quite unusual that he actually used a weapon,” Edelson said.

“I've been in the field 30 years, and I've never heard of it.”

Autism is not a defense against a violent crime, said Bruce J. Winick, a UM law professor. For the state to prosecute, Brinegar merely has to be competent to stand trial.

The real question is whether he knew right from wrong.

Brinegar was originally placed in a maximum-security main jail and, after meeting with mental health professionals, was placed at North Broward. His mother has been released from the hospital.


Update 14.48 EST: The title of this post has been changed (thanks to abfh; see below); more discussion at Christschool, and thanks very much.