Should having autism be a legal defence to hacking charges?

Filed Under: Data loss, Featured, Law & order

shadowy image from shutterstockLast summer, Julian Assange was quoted in an unauthorised autobiography saying, "I am - like all hackers - a little bit autistic".

He coined the term "Hackers Disease" meaning a "bottomless curiosity, single-mindedness, and an obsession with precision" and notes its similarities with autistic spectrum disorders.

And a recent news broadcast from Channel 4 also raised the issue, asking whether autism be a defence for hacking?

While Assange made a sweeping generalisation about a sensitive issue, there are nevertheless UK examples of indicted hackers having autism, particularly Asperger syndrome. Gary McKinnon and Ryan Cleary have also been reported to have this condition.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) defines autism as a spectrum condition with common characteristics including difficulty with social communication, interaction and imagination. It impacts each person differently and other conditions can exacerbate effects.

gary-mikinnon x170The NAS states that those on the spectrum with high-functioning autism, and Asperger syndrome, will have above average intelligence and an obsessive interest in a hobby as a common trait.

Hacker Gary McKinnon, wanting to prove the existence of UFOs, hacked into NASA and Pentagon databases and allegedly caused $700,000 of damage.

According to Wikipedia, Gary McKinnon "was diagnosed by three of the world's leading suffering from an autism spectrum disorder compounded with clinical depression."

The unfairness of his potential US extradition has aroused public anger. However, the lack of judicial sympathy to his Asperger syndrome has compounded these claims.

Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, was an expert witness during Gary McKinnon's trial and claimed that he suffers from his theory of "mind-blindness", meaning that Gary McKinnon was so focused on finding the truth, he lost sight of the consequences of his actions.

In another UK case last summer, alleged LulzSec hacker Ryan Cleary was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

Mr Cleary was charged with five counts under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, including a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack on the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

Looking at this from a legal perspective, should a defendant's autism have an effect on the charges? There are convincing arguments on both sides.

Professor Peter Sommer said in the Channel 4 report:

"Looking back at hacker cases I have done a fair number where the accused have displayed behaviour that is often now associated with Asperger's and that includes obsessional activity, great determination, a sense of invincibility and a lot of arrogance...but that doesn't amount to lack of understanding ultimately of the difference between right and wrong, and that as I understand it is the real legal test."

In contrast, Professor Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University said:

"People with autism tend to know right from wrong and often they have a very strong sense of what is good and what is bad; their sense of morality is very clear. But in some cases it may be that they become so preoccupied by their search for information that lose sight of the consequences of their actions... In his [Gary McKinnon's] case the computer was the tool he was using to get at information that he thought would be in the best interests of humanity so he pursued it, and he didn't really let go of that, it became an obsession in his case."

But should autism have any impact at all in defending charges? Would a tiered structure be necessary?

The question really boils down to the following: assuming the effects of the actions are identical, should a hacker with autism be treated differently to a hacker without?

The condition affects everyone differently, so an absolute defence will be difficult to justify.

However, if a defendant's diagnosed condition results in obsessive behaviour, limited awareness of consequences, and an alternative perception of right and wrong, then perhaps there could be a case for a partial defence.

This may allow fairer treatment and provide formal legal protection for individuals like Gary McKinnon in the future.

Image credit: Shadowy figures from Shutterstock.

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22 Responses to Should having autism be a legal defence to hacking charges?

  1. Sean Sullivan · 1334 days ago

    “However, if a defendant's diagnosed condition results in obsessive behaviour, limited awareness of consequences, and an alternative perception of right and wrong, then perhaps there could be a case for a partial defence.”

    Please expand on your thoughts… because to me, that diagnosis could just as easily be referring to a sociopath. Are you equating being autistic to being a sociopath? Legally at least?

    • Lachlan Urquhart · 1333 days ago

      I am not equating people with autism to sociopaths at all. The term sociopath, to my mind, implies that an individual is not guided by reasoning of right or wrong. Instead, they might foresee but nevertheless disregard the consequences that their actions have for others.

      As the article discusses, people with autism have a very clear understanding of the notions of right and wrong. With the example given here, Professor Baron Cohen found that for Gary McKinnon, his Asperger Syndrome led him to weigh up right and wrong in a manner that seemed morally right to him at the time. However, he did not fully appreciate or foresee the severity of the consequences due to his condition.

      For Gary, he believed finding and disseminating information to the world about UFO's was the right thing to do because it would benefit humanity. This is despite having to hack into NASA &The Pentagon etc to get the information.

      This balancing of interests clearly contrasts with the conclusion someone without the condition may reach. For them the awareness of breaking many laws and fear of prison would be enough incentive to stop hacking. Is it fair then that someone, who by virtue of their autism has an altered perception of the situation, could be treated the same as someone without the condition?

      I am just trying to say that because autism is a spectrum disorder it affects all individuals differently. Therefore, any argument should be on a case-by-case basis, with expert assessment. Perhaps there should be more provisions in place within the legal system to handle a range of outcomes.

      This is why I don't say that autism should provide an absolute defence. There has clearly been wrongdoing when hackers with autism break into computer systems searching for UFO evidence or otherwise. However, maybe there should be other legal measures in place to reflect the defendant's position, like creating a partial defence allowing lowering of charges, or a shortening of sentence. Although these could be achieved when sentencing is carried out (by incorporating mitigating circumstances), maybe it needs to be a bigger factor than just in the sentencing stage.

  2. Bi11 · 1333 days ago

    I am endowed with Asperger's Syndrome (professionally diagnosed)

    Crime and punishment in the context of Asperger's Syndrome can be fraught with problems.
    Society has a certain expectation that a neurotypical child can be made to feel guilt by something as simple as a disapproving look or tone of voice, and physical punishment is not necessary.
    An Aspie may not even recognize a facial expression or properly interpret tone of voice. Physical punishments are also less effective for several reasons. The pain threshold is a quantum level higher than normal (I have suffered and coped with a broken leg, broken fingers, broken ribs and a broken pelvis with no medical attention because of my tolerance of pain, and my Aspie son had an undiagnosed broken arm for a week until we suspected medical incompetence and sent him back for X-Rays. He had had a dislocated shoulder in the accident, and the X-Ray for the shoulder had required holding weighted buckets, which he apparently had held without complaint even though the arm had a clear complete fracture. I and my brother are also able to have dental work done without anesthetic.) There also may be an emotional disconnect from the pain (this includes emotional pain too; for instance I do not suffer grief at the death of a close relative.)

    In this context of disregard of guilt and pain, punishments have to be brutal in order to even get some Aspie’s attention, and of course society will not tolerate brutal punishments because just as an autist intrinsically cannot sense other people’s pain and emotion, neurotypicals cannot intrinsically sense some Aspies’s lack of pain and emotion.

    This does not mean that an Aspie cannot learn right and wrong, cannot understand right and wrong, but I find respect for law and authority all boils down to individual personality and adherence to logic versus chaos. I personally believe in the “Golden Rule” because it is logical, and follow law to an almost obsessive degree. I believe one of my adult Aspie sons follows no laws based on logic or morals and the only limiting factor is his weighing in his mind how likely he is to get caught.

    So some Aspies can be truly evil. Some Aspies can be your best and smartest employee.

    I understand Rudy Giuliani cleaned up New York using the principle of “if you put people in jail for little crimes, they won’t be on the street committing big crimes.” I am sure some people disagree with this philosophy, but it is difficult to argue that it doesn’t work. By this principle you shouldn’t cut Aspie sociopaths any slack; throw them in jail before they commit an even worse crime. Oh, and throwing them in jail does get their attention, though some Aspies don’t actually mind jail that much, because they like the routine and privacy of a cell (I seldom leave my bedroom or home office and dread going most anywhere.)

    I can be devil’s advocate for Aspies in one respect; they are more likely to be ignorant of some of society’s laws simply because of having no interaction with society. This is especially true with respect to sexual activity and understanding the thresholds when some sexual activity becomes criminal.

    I cannot forgive or advocate for a hacker however. Certainly a hacker understands logic and rules or they would not be able be successful at hacking. If they understand logic and rules, why should they not be held accountable for their actions?

  3. mom2two · 1333 days ago

    As a Mom to two very young, but very intelligent and high functioning children both on the Autism Spectrum. I do agree that in some individuals with an ASD diagnosis, the concept of right and wrong do not come naturally. But it is a case by case issue and not something that could be applied to everyone with an ASD diagnoses.

  4. Oleta · 1333 days ago

    Yes, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder should be considered as a partial defence.
    My son has Aspergers and he does have a very developed sense of right and wrong, but it isn't our idea of right and wrong. He is very focussed on what is 'fair' and 'right'. He has faced bullying because he will point out when people are unfair or break even the smallest rule, because he doesn't always see the difference between breaking a small rule or a large one. But he ultimately believes in his own moral compass, what he sees is right and fair, and believes in that rigidly beyond what we would say were society's idea of justice. I could easily imagine how he might believe that the need to reveal 'the truth' about aliens was more important, a higher purpose than obeying hacking rules. If it became one of his obsessions, it is totally possible. He wouldn't see it as criminal, because in his mind, it would be necessary because it would be 'right' and 'fair' for people to know the truth. People break small rules all the time and he sees this, and doesn't understand the differences of scale, so he might not grasp that looking at a restricted network would be any worse than sneaking a peak at someone else's library book. From his point of view there would be no difference and the higher purpose of 'revealing the truth', would be served.

    As to the comments of Bi11, are you really advocating corporal punishment for ASD people 'cos that's all they understand'? That's barbaric and despicable.

    I'm not suggesting that there be no punishment, the question was about a 'partial defence' and that means there will be some punitive outcome. But what is most important in determining punishment is surely intent. There is a difference in British Law between Manslaughter and Murder, between GBH and GBH with intent, because what was intended makes a difference. The US is looking to charge Gary McKinnon as a terrorist, and pushing for a sentence of the same magnitude. They wish to equate his misguided actions with someone who went into that system with the sole intention of destroying the system or reaping its secrets to permit and plan acts of murder or terror. A premeditated act of terror compared with a misguided young man looking for little green men.....perhaps the US prosecutors don't understand differences in scale either.

    • Peter Sommer · 1333 days ago

      There is no such thing in English law as a partial defence. There are however mitigating circumstances which a judge can consider when passing sentence. Hence my remarks on Channel 4 News: to escape a guilty finding (assuming that the unauthorised access, etc took place and is not contested) an accused would have to be so severely affected that they did not know the difference between right and wrong. Such a finding would probably mean that he would need to be in some form of medical confinement.

      But a medical report persuading a judge that an accused was in some lesser aspect of the autism spectrum might help avoid him prison.

      The position of Gary McKinnon is rather different of course, as the issue here is extradition. It is also worth remembering that so far in all his legal proceedings, there has been no proper testing of the damage he is alleged to have caused.

      Peter Sommer

      • Oleta · 1332 days ago

        Thanks, I knew I didn't have it quite right but couldn't think of the English alternative.

    • Bi11 · 1333 days ago

      Oleta, you prove my point that neurotypicals cannot comprehend someone lacking pain and emotion; you anthropomorphise neurotypical feelings onto someone likely incapable of feeling them.
      Two generations ago corporal punishment was not considered barbaric and despicable, how quickly things change. Two hundred years ago we were hanging common thieves. Of course, in much of the non-Western World nothing has changed; for instance hands still get lopped off for theft, women stoned for adultery.
      I look at each society's judgement systems and nothing jumps out at me which resolves which system is better for neurotypicals, though it is well known that the stricter systems have less crime and thus fewer innocent victims. Regarding someone lacking an intrinsic moral compass, it isn't even a contest on which system would do a better job at protecting the innocent from predators.
      Even if you choose to disregard protecting the innocent, in my many years of observing autism news items every day, I can't help but notice how many undisciplined ASD children drown or run out into traffic.
      One incidental point- although I may not be as good as a neurotypical at discerning neurotypical emotions, I do notice bullying and insults. I speak English very well thank you very much and would not use 'cos (sic) or make any similar grammar, spelling or pronunciation error, though I will admit to having a few grammar problems with the other four languages I speak, especially Russian. Try as you might to portray me as a hick, I am highly educated and engineer multimillion dollar international projects. I do not suffer from Asperger's; I am endowed with it.

      • Oleta · 1332 days ago

        OK Bi11 Let's get this clear I was not insulting your grammar or intelligence, I'm sorry you misread my intention. Funny how you did that, isn't it? Misinterpreted an innocent contraction used for stylistic effect as 'bullying and insults'. Gosh I hope that doesn't happen on a larger scale, some time.
        If you're anything like my son, you'll have a difficulty with sarcasm too!

        Secondly let's not get silly comparing acheivements, I have a few languages and degrees myself so as we say here in Devon, 'get off your high horse' . But I do take issue with your opinions. Everyone with an ASD is different, my son, ( I know him quite well as it happens - it's a mum thing), has different issues than you and your sons seem to have. Not better or worse just different. However I do object to your use of the word 'anthropomorphise' in a description of my son or my attitude toward him. Although, I'm sure you won't need reminding, let's look at the definition of that word: The attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.' Are you really suggesting that my son is less than human? Surely not. Do you feel that way about yourself, because that would be really sad.

        And where do you get the idea that ASD people are 'predators'? You seem to have a lot of pride in being gifted with an alternative to the 'neurotypical' and yet you say such negative things about yourself and your fellows. You seem to think that your experience is every other ASD experience. It isn't. It's a broad spectrum, and I wish to continue to judge every individual according to their unique ASD profile.

        My son isn't less than a human being, he just sees the world a little differently to most. Like you say it can be a gift, but it brings it's own isssues, and understanding those, I can see how Gary McKinnon could end up in the situation he is in. I don't think he should serve 60 years in a foreign country away from his family for this.

  5. Shiny317 · 1333 days ago

    I think there is a major difference with some hackers and Gary McKinnon.

    I disapprove of hacking in general whether someone claims an illness or not if they know good from bad, or they know its causing problems for many people. DDoS attacks etc are just that, attacks that cause problems for normal internet users. Gary's case is somewhat different. He was after information only, I can't see how they can work out how much in dollars the damage he 'alledgedly' caused and think he's being used as a scapegoat to cover US depts appauling bad security issues.

    Remember Gary McKinnon's case was donkey's years ago, he had a 56k dial up modem, old PC technology and he got in easy as pie. However bad hacking is considered, in his case I feel he is being used as an example which is mainly to cover someone else's butt for not doing their job properly and keeping their systems secure.

    Bottom line in Gary's case is he's being blamed to cover up failures of someone else, just because he wanted to find out information not freely available on the internet at the time.

    • This was a unique time in computing history. Long gone are the days you can walk up to any old Windows XP machine, give it the three fingered salute twice, type Administrator, leave the password field blank and log in and see all files on the PC. Now when you turn on a PC for the first time or install an operating system, you are specifically asked to create a password. Default passwords are now a rare beast.

      If an employee left a door unlocked, then someone walked in and stole information, I am sure they'd be fired on the spot. I wonder if the IT techs still have jobs? See they made a big mistake, I bet they interviewed people for the job of IT technician and they turned down people with Asperger Syndrome. People with the condition often don't come across well in interviews and experience extensive periods of unemployment. If they hired someone with Aspergers the security breach would never have happened, as they'd have done their job properly and conscientiously. Gary should be paid a consultancy fee and thanked for highlighting a basic security flaw someone with far greater ulterior motives could have taken advantage of.

  6. Diane · 1333 days ago

    There are several factors at play in this case and just bringing it down to a matter of his Asperger's is misinterpreting the case. Gary McKinnon has acknowledged his guilt and is willing to stand trial in the UK for a crime he committed whilst in the UK. Is the US saying that British justice is not good enough?

    At the time he committed the offence in question the extradition treaty between the US and the UK was not in force and the previous treaty would certainly not have allowed the extradition. The current treaty is unfairly balanced requiring "probable cause" for a US citizen to be extradited to the UK and simply to be accused of a crime leading to imprisonment for a year or more for a UK citizen to be extradited to the US.

    This imbalance means that whilst a US citizen can challenge the evidence in a US court before being extradited a UK citizen has no such right. The UK Joint Committee on Human Rights strongly recommended last year that the treaty be renegotiated to require the same level of proof for extradition to the US as to the UK.

    As things stand; Gary McKinnon, a man who has never left the UK as a result of his very severe fear of travel could be extradited and forced to travel a very long distance for a crime he committed in another country and which that country is perfectly competent to try. Perhams a more balanced view of ALL the legallities of this case should be taken.

  7. garfey · 1333 days ago

    Interesting discussions and analyses but the simple answer is "No."

  8. MrsA · 1333 days ago

    As a mother of a child with Asp I can honestly say I have seen this 'mind blindness' in action, it is tunnel vision without fear of concequences. He knows right from wrong but the compulsion is so strong that everything and everyone disappears into the background. You can commit a murder or other crime while under a 'diminished responsibility' isn't it the same things when you are functioning under the condition of ASD?

  9. Nigel · 1332 days ago

    “...should a hacker with autism be treated differently to a hacker without?”

    First, it's differently FROM, not differently “to”.

    Second, the answer is no. All hackers whose actions result in property loss or other form of harmful effects should be held equally accountable for the consequences of their actions. Whether they were aware of what those consequences would be is irrelevant. They chose to act, and they must learn to accept responsibility for their choices. The question is not WHETHER they should accept responsibility, but WHAT FORM should it take.

    The reason this issue appears to be a quandary is because the issue of accountability is muddled by our society's downright perverted mindset on the handling of crime in the first place—namely, the notion that the criminal must always be punished. What good does punishment do? Punishment is revenge. It solves nothing. It fixes nothing. It seldom teaches anything except bitterness and counter-revenge.

    With “punish” or “don't punish” as the only available options, the issue of justice devolves into pseudo-moralistic hand wringing about what to do with poor, unfortunate Gary McKinnon. “It's not fair to punish him!" begs the question as to whether punishment has anything to do with actual justice in the first place. I agree that it's not fair. It's not fair to everyone who has to absorb the losses he caused them. Having him rot in jail or in a psycho ward or in “medical confinement” doesn't restore their losses.

    Actually, it's not fair to Mr. McKinnon either. It robs him of any hope of restoring any self-esteem he might have gained by making good on his bad choices. It condemns him to a condition of perpetual indebtedness, both to the people he harmed, and to society in general for having paid for the cost of his punishment.

    Those who are truly concerned about justice ought to think less about punishment and more about justice for the victims. Don't punish Gary McKinnon and his ilk. Instead, make them pay—not useless fines paid to soulless political bureaucracies, but restitution paid to the actual victims of their crimes. THAT's a proper concept of “paying one's debt to society”, not incarcerated freeloading. When their accounts are settled, those who commit such crimes will have a much more focused view on the subject of consequences.

  10. 4caster · 1332 days ago

    First of all, statements like "At the time he committed the offence ...." (Diane, and some others) are out of order because he has not been convicted of any offence, and in my book one is innocent until proven guilty. Admission to a crime is not proof of guilt, as "Ten Rillington Place" demonstrated so well.

    The motive behind a criminal act, and the use to which the proceeds of crime are put, are both relevant to the sentence. Someone who hacks the CIA website intending to obtain sensitive data for an enemy of the USA deserves a severe sentence. But a geek who seeks trivial information, which may not even exist, concerning a possible cover-up about UFOs, will have done no harm to the USA at all. On the contrary, it could be argued that he did the USA a favour by discovering a weakness in the security of the CIA website. If that weakness had not been brought to the CIA's attention, it may well have remained open to exploitation by terrorists. An immediate but conditional discharge would be the appropriate sentence for Gary McKinnon if he is ever found guilty.

    But it will be a sad day for British justice if the USA's extradition request is not firmly and finally refused, and in quick time too. At the time Gary is alleged to have committed this crime, it was not a crime at all under UK law, and the (assymetric) treaty under which his extradition is demanded did not yet exist. The authorities are making his life a misery every day this cloud remains over his head. Part of his mental state is a severe fear of travel. American presidents always make much of their Christian faith. The current one should show Christian compassion towards a good man whose only motive was to discover truth.

    And, in support of Nigel, one thing differs FROM another, not TO, nor THAN.

  11. Vanessa Gibson · 1332 days ago

    Correcting typos:
    I too am endowed with Asperger's (diagnosed by a recognised specialist diagnostician).

    People close to me, when I had such people, tended not to believe when I said that they were physically hurting me because I didn't show it in NT ways and had not been diagnosed (The diagnosis didn't exist then.). Don't assume that Aspies or fish don't feel pain; we do feel pain. I also keenly feel emotional pain and keenly detect hidden intentions but don't wear my heart on my sleeve or face; I have to decide to express it and whether to reveal it. I may seem or even pretend not to notice cruelty done to myself in order to remove the pay-off for the sadist(s) involved. The perpetrator may feel very pleased and clever and will have no idea that I saw right through them and will be treating them very differently in future.

    1 in 25 people are sociopaths. These have no conscience and value other people only for how they can exploit them. One moved in next door not long ago and has assessed my exploitability. I have a book about her: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. She lies compulsively, unnecessarily, inconsistently (with her former lies) and even self-contradictorily and is friendly only to exploit. Her children and boyfriend are cowed by her furious vicious spitefulness and are under her thumb.

    NTs are inconsistent in their legislating. Slavery was legal, now it's not. Tax laws are changed all the time, including making a mean one to prevent average people bed-and-breakfasting shares that also (intentionally?) allowed rich people to make unlimited fortunes free of capital gains tax provided that they bought back any shares they'd sold within 30 days - because the sale would be deemed not to have taken place and any gains not to have been made and the gains would therefore not be taxable because (for tax purposes) they never happened: a legal lie. This legislative dishonesty allowed people to buy and sell the same fluctuating stock on a regular basis and never have to pay any tax on their gains. I see this as spiteful dishonesty that backfired on the UK treasury. But I'm an Aspie, what do I know of right and wrong? Plenty! NTs are the ones who confuse morality and legislation.

    I think it is legitimate (in the planetary public interest) to share information about close encounters, torture, false-flag ops (like 9/11 & 7/7), government cover-ups (like the man who died of AIDS at Porton Down and was cremated there in the late 1960s - reported on BBC Radio: The Light Programme lka Radio 2; this was when HIV was engineered; it was used to infect gay men later; male homosexuality was still illegal in Scotland and a all homosexuality a mental illness according to the DSM of the period).

    Do governments have the right to lie to their subjects and covertly torture and murder people while protesting these activities abroad?
    Do we trust our governments?
    How do we find out what is really going on?
    We rely upon brilliant Aspies to find out then tell us.
    Should the Aspies be punished for their services to humanity?
    NO! They should be praised and rewarded!

    What damage was done to the Merkin computer system?
    At a guess: Their security measures (probably corrupt in the tendering) were proved worthless. No damage was done to data. The fact that money had been wasted on bogus software from a bogus contractor in exchange for bribes was brought to light and so new measures would need to be purchased, from corrupt contractors, to reassure whomever they feel the need to convince.

    Why is so much money spent suppressing what the USA airforce see on a regular basis? Whole towns saw some spectacular UFOs. Anything seen in the sky that can't be specifically identified is an UFO.

    Why did NASA fake the evidence of moon-landings: painting-out stars in photographs, etc.? Dust round the lander deep enough to to yield a deep footprint was enough to show the lie, without a flag blowing in the breeze, numbered rocks, multiple light sources, camera crosshairs concealed behind photographed objects, etc.. What did they do with the Moon funds if the whole thing was faked in a terrestrial desert with inconvenient stars: Did somebody buy a yacht?

    The USA - via coercive unbalanced treaties, the CIA, the WTO and its military, etc. - bullies the rest of our planet: snatching people here, bombing there, invading other people's countries with invented excuses to steal oil, torturing folk from all over the planet.

  12. VFAC · 1331 days ago

    Quite an interesting discussion. Good topic Mr. Urquhart :)

    The challenge here is the right of a sovereign nation to enforce its laws, and protect its citizens from crimes committed within its borders. The US is trying to send a very strong message to deter criminals from taking advantage of global politics to avoid judicial process. I am guessing there is concern that the need to send this message could result in a less than fair trial.

    As Mr Sommer noted, the assessment of the degree of damage hasn't been though any kind of test for accuracy yet and these kinds of figures can be manipulated. Given the time that has passed since the incident providing accounts for the costs directly associated with the intrusion should be possible.

    Part of the excitement in the discussion boils down to your understanding of the role of the criminal justice system and whether you see it as a method of metering out fair punishments or as an instrument for preserving the function of society. Greater understanding and recognition of neurological distinctions that may have affected the motivations behind perpetrating an act that contravenes a law would allow for the justice response to be more appropriate in providing a sentence that not only satisfies the communities need for fairness, but also assist the sentenced in functioning in a way that society finds less threatening.

    I find the concept of neurotypical quite challenging. I understand the use of the term to represent a group that are not categorized as having characteristics considered as medically atypical. Such terms are better for building walls between people rather than building understanding. I would rather think of people as a unique combination of neurological attributes, all of whom are of equivalent potential. I do rely on those who are gifted in their skills of logic and their ability to focus on a task to discover new worlds, build amazing objects that enhance my life and construct the world of our future but I also rely on the taxi driver who can reduce stress with an smile and mindless banter, the barista who's passion for coffee is infectious and uplifting.

  13. Howard Plumley · 1331 days ago

    Any defense based on 'diminished capacity' to reckognize right from wrong is fraught with peril. If they accept the premise, you go from suspect of criminal act to victim of a condition, which society has the right to protect itself from. So you go to a psychiatric institution where release is not based on days served, BUT declaration of 'cured'.

    Given the current posturing of the US government, they might even like the defense being used as that would open the door for 'disappearing' troublesome people.

    If you think it can't happen in the US or anywhere else on earth, look at the history of sex offenders in Washington state. Server your time and be transfereed to a psych unit until declared 'safe'.

  14. Anastasia · 1305 days ago

    I have diagnosed Asperger's and I understand what's going on in an Aspie mind.

    My opinion is that I wouldn't punish him in usual ways, because just being prisoned with no detailed explanation will be nothing of a good to an Aspie. He might not put any attention to being prisoned at all, because he might not understand what was so wrong with 'revealing the truth' or he might not clearly understand the consequences of what he did unless someone explains to him why is that so. Aspies don't have the 'social sense' that other people have, because they are like foreigners in a new society they came in. They think very differently and uniquely to all of other people.

    What would be the best punishment for an Aspie, is to have a therapy on social skills, somebody to teach him to see the perspective of other people and work on his theory of mind, and of course punishment in a form of not being allowed to use the computer for as long as punishment would last. It would be his special interest, and he might then feel guilty if he'd not be allowed to use his most liked tool and would be interested of why, or would at least put strong attention to the punishment. Special interests are the best tool to unlocking the Aspie mind and put them to thinking about what they have done wrong. If nobody explains them this or they are allowed to go on with normal life after punishment like it's nothing, it wouldn't help. They would just be in prison for as long as they have to, put no attention to why being there, maybe they'd even enjoy the routine there, and when they return, they might think of all of this as just 'some years spent there and that's all', with not a bit of understanding of why they landed there. Maybe they will say why because they have heard it from others, but have no idea of why really did it happen.

    • Alex Head · 1085 days ago

      This. I've had a brony skiddie (Script kiddie) who told me to kill myself claim to be autistic. If he was, I'm sure I would notice as I'm an autistic too.

  15. gwilsonfans · 952 days ago

    I don't think having Autism should be a legal defence to any charges. Most people with Autism are non verbal meaning they can't speak for themselves. People with Autism live in their own little world. I don't really know if these people know right from wrong.

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About the author

Lachlan Urquhart is a legal academic from Edinburgh, Scotland who has completed an LL.B at the University of Edinburgh and recently concluded a postgraduate LL.M in Information Technology and Telecommunications Law at the University of Strathclyde. For more articles from Lachlan, visit his blog.