Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Asperger's and the Law

I have always been a strong advocate for neurodiversity. Far too many people have been mistreated due to their neurological condition. People with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) do know the difference between right and wrong, or can be taught, and cannot use their condition as an excuse. In the case of John Patrick Rogers of Huntington Beach, California, AS can neither explain nor defend his actions. This man has two convictions, to both which he plead guilty, of assault with a deadly weapon. He is terrorizing his neighbors, and he is now facing a third felony conviction. NA third strike felony conviction could mean a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

While the three strikes law has had the benefit of lowering crime, it also has some drawbacks. I personally oppose laws that remove discretion from juries because juries should have the right to determine how the law is applied, a power that for the last century has been usurped by judges. For a while judges were too lenient and more people fell victim to serious crimes by repeat offenders. This has led to a series of laws supported by victims advocates like the three strikes law. I can understand the reasons for these laws although on principal I do not support them.

I cannot see any reason why John Rogers should serve a life term. Such a sentence would be a serious miscarriage of justice. The most serious crime he has committed this time seems to be causing $400 worth of damage to a car and a long series of similar small incidents. In this news report we can see that the media is not favorable to neurodiversity:

1 While Asperger's Syndrome is reported as being a form of autism, the media continues to use the word autism afterward instead of Asperger's.

2 One man interviewed said that Rogers was "close to going over the edge." Over the edge of what? He seems to be implying that Rogers is somehow insane and will soon "lose it." This is a common problem, many people do not understand the difference between neurological challenges and mental challenges.

3 Toward the end of the report a second interviewee refers to mental issues. Again, Asperger's Syndrome is not a mental disorder, it is a neurological one. The reporters should have made some effort to clarify this point.

I do agree with the District Attorney that Rogers does know right from wrong. I disagree with his being prosecuted this way. Clearly he needs treatment and support to change his habits, but he does not need a 25 year jail sentence. Once again, Aspies find ourselves being punished for having AS.

Finally, I wonder if this story would have made the news if Mr. Rogers did not live in a gated community in an upscale part of southern California...


  1. While well aware of the problem, the powers that be will merely spend funding to form committees to study the problem and train the trainers while the ones who need help end up in the penal system. Its the way it is

  2. Asperger's disorder is a psychiatric disorder. This person sounds very mentally ill. MY experience with an Asperger's doctor, Paul S. Appelbaum MD, is that he was extremely mentally ill and very dangerous to others. The full weight of the law should be brought to bear to contain these people and prevent harm to others.