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Was Your Autistic or Special Needs Child Arrested in Houston?

Published: Apr 08, 2022 in Criminal Defense, Juvenile Crimes, Student Crimes

Going through the juvenile justice system is challenging enough. It can be especially traumatic if you don’t understand what’s going on or why. A child with special needs or someone on the autism spectrum is, particularly at a disadvantage. For example, an individual could commit a delinquent act without realizing it, or others misunderstand their actions.

Because of their reactions to their surroundings, others may think they’re dangerous, mentally ill, or using drugs. No parent wants a call from a police department, but if the child has special needs, it may be a nightmare come true.

What Should I Do If My Child Is Arrested?

If your child is detained, contact a juvenile defense attorney. Inform them of the circumstances and your child’s autism or special needs. That attorney will:

  • Explain the situation to law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office
  • Inform them of conditions or triggers that could cause problems
  • Ask for accommodations for clothes or diet as needed
  • Make sure treatments or medications continue

If your child is arrested, remain calm and get legal help.

Some Charges Are More Common Than Others

In one South Carolina study, researchers with the Interactive Autism Network found that only 5% of 609 teens with autism were charged with crimes. Of those that were, they primarily didn’t involve violence, and few were convicted.

Those with autism were more likely to be punished for causing disturbances at school or an offense involving school. They may account for many delinquency allegations involving alleged acts against people. Between social demands and bullying by other students, autistic kids may lash out and behave impulsively.

What Laws Apply to My Child?

There aren’t different criminal laws that apply to autism or special needs kids. Police and prosecutors need to decide:

  • If what happened was a delinquent act
  • Whether they can form criminal intent

Each child and situation is unique, but proving criminal intent may be difficult. It may be more a question of mitigating the stress your child experiences and ensuring their record is not negatively impacted.

Defenses for Special Needs Children

Texas law outlines the applicable defenses for children (ages 10 to 17) with a mental illness, disability, or lack of capacity. It states a judge shall determine whether probable cause exists to believe the child lacks:

  • The ability to understand the proceedings, assist in their defense, or are unfit to proceed
  • Substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct or to conform their behavior to the law’s requirements

If the judge decides there’s a reasonable belief the child doesn’t have such capacity, the criminal complaint may be dismissed.

Will My Child Be Found Delinquent?

Having autism or special needs isn’t a shield that prevents a child from being found delinquent (or guilty in the adult criminal system). The prosecution still carries the burden of proof, but your child could be found delinquent depending on the evidence and the child’s degree of disability.

If that’s the case, they probably won’t be put in state custody unless they commit a serious offense. They’re more likely to be given probation with conditions to follow.

Can Special Needs Children Confess?

In addition to issues with intent and capacity, if your child confesses to an alleged delinquent act, it may not be used against them. Suppose it happened during questioning or while being detained. For that confession to be valid, they typically must knowingly waive their rights to remain silent and answer questions without an attorney present.

Was it a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decision? Did the child say false, incriminating things because they thought it would end the situation and allow them to go home? If these rights weren’t properly read to your child, they didn’t understand them, didn’t realize they waived their rights, or what they said can be shown to be untrue, the confession shouldn’t be allowed.

What Other Resources Can Help?

It’s not easy being a parent, especially if a child has autism or special needs. Here are some resources that may help in non-criminal matters.

Reach Out to a Lawyer for Help

If your child is in custody or questioned by the police, get help from an experienced Houston juvenile lawyer. Ned Barnett will put your child’s best interests first, fiercely protect their rights, and fight for the best possible outcome in their case.

To learn more about how a lawyer can help deal with charges involving a child with special needs, contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett online or call 713-222-6767 to schedule a free consultation.