DUI: Asperger's Syndrome, Autism & Mental Illness

Question: My son was charged with DUI in Atlanta. He was driving home from work at the tech company he works for in Midtown. The Georgia State Police officer said that he was speeding and was travelling over 20 M.P.H. over the speed limit.

He was on his way home to Sandy Springs where he lives with us.

My son told me that he was really nervous and that the cop had him take various tests. My son said that he is sure that he looked really bad and sounded really bad. He's been at home literally hitting his head against the wall every 10 minutes or so.

He took a blood test. My son doesn't drink much at all and does not use drugs. But the state trooper kept asking him about drugs. He was asked repeatedly what drugs he takes and where he gets them.

I think the reason my son was arrested and asked about drugs is because he suffers from Asperger Syndrome. He's very bright; in fact he graduated from Georgia Tech, but because of his Asperger's he can appear as drunk or on drugs, especially when he's nervous and in a new situation. Social situations have always been a challenge for him but he can sit and write codes and play video games for hours and hours. One time in college he gamed for 3 straight days without eating or sleeping.

I have not read much at all on the Internet about Asperger Syndrome and how it can impact DUI and other criminal charges. What should we do?

Answer: Asperger Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that usually involves social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

We have handled a number of cases for autistic clients and, specifically, people with Asperger's. It is important to have your son's pertinent medical records available so that they can be shown, if necessary, to the State Trooper, the prosecutor and a jury. They can be utilized to explain his behavior as an organic medical disorder, not manifestations of alcohol or drug use. There are mental health experts who can testify that he was acting in a manner consistent with Asperger's. About 1 in 68 American children falls on the autism spectrum.

There is beginning to be a greater understanding of mental health issues by courts and law enforcement agencies. There certainly is a long way to go, but substantial progress has been made in the last 10 years or so.

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