FASD & the Justice System

“Given the law, it is important for judges to view police conduct through the lens of the individual circumstances of a person with FASD, including concerns about their suggestibility and the possibility that they may provide a false confession.”  (Roach, K and Bailey, A. 2009, p. 21)

People with FASD are frequently characterized as hyper-suggestible.  “On repeated questioning, the individual with FAS/FAE, who is often susceptible to suggestions of what might have happened, may incorporate these suggestions into his or her own retelling of the event.”  (Conry and Fast. 2000)

For example, in the case of Bryan Tait, an adult with FAS made a false confession that put him behind bars for 11 months for a double murder he could not have committed.  He “at first vehemently denies any involvement but finally breaks down and repeats the story police have read to him … From that point on, his confession goes wildly astray from the known facts.   It was later found that he was in jail on another charge when the murders occurred.”  (Conry and Fast. 2000)

People with FASD are very susceptible to minimizing themes and “false friend” methods of questioning. They trust and want to please people in authority. 

If you suspect that the person you represent may have FASD and has made a confession, consider first whether there is sufficient evidence of a crime to begin with.  If yes, then consider whether:

  • the accused confessed simply to please or appease the interrogator
  • the accused confessed to something he / she does not have the capacity to remember
  • the accused understood the ramifications of the confession
  • the people who conducted or were present at the interrogation were familiar with the signs and symptoms of FASD.

Communications with adults and young people who have FASD should be:

  • Concrete
  • Simple
  • Repeated