Virginia Seeks to Protect Disabled Students from Criminal Charges
Neurological Disorder Behavior is Not a Crime
The Virginia General Assembly recently approved legislation to give neurologically-disabled juveniles a new legal defense when they are charged with misdemeanors at school.
Juveniles with disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder would benefit the most if Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs the bill.
They often demonstrate behavioral problems that can be misinterpreted as having a criminal intent.
The issue has arisen in schools throughout the Washington area but is particularly acute in Virginia. A recent Center for Public Integrity report showed Virginia reports students with neurological disorders to police more often than any other state.
Lawmakers who support the bill said they want to avoid criminal punishments for people who are merely acting in a way consistent with their disabilities.
A kid with some kind of a disability may know that he’s not supposed to throw the trash can across the room, but he just can’t help himself, Delegate David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who sponsored the legislation, said during a floor speech.
Some of the same prosecutors who oppose the bill created this problem themselves because they shouldn’t ever have been prosecuting these kids, Albo said.
The strongest opposition to the bill comes from the state’s prosecutors.
The Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys warned that the legislation could shield disabled juveniles from liability who fully deserve criminal punishment. They include students with dyslexia and speech impediments.
The bill would allow the intellectually-impaired minors to claim diminished capacity as a defense to criminal charges. Their defenses could be made stronger if they present evidence of a special needs education plan to address their disabilities.