FASD & the Justice System

Intermittent and short-term memory problems, and gaps in long-term memory, can impact upon the ability of a person with FASD to recall and clearly describe past events.  The accused may:

  • not remember what was said 10 seconds ago or less (short term memory difficulties)
  • forget something today, but remember it tomorrow (intermittent memory)
  • present events in the wrong order
  • confabulate based on impaired memory or desire to please (LINK: Confabulate: To fill in gaps in memory by fabrication)
  • answer questions using the “information” given in the questions
  • be unable to cope with abstract questions, or questions not simply stated
  • not be able to follow proceedings, and may become frustrated.

An analogy for the memory processing difficulties of a person with FASD is a filing cabinet that has fallen and spilled its contents on the floor. The individual knows the information is there, but cannot find the file to retrieve the required information.

Transitions may also be difficult. A person with FASD may be challenge when moving from one situation or environment to another.  If incarcerated, the accused may have trouble moving from the prison cell to transportation, to court holding cell and then to the courtroom, and then may be quite agitated or “lost” by the time he or she testifies.