Now Available!
Elizabeth's new book titled Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was just released by the American Bar Association. Topics include:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Testing
  • Competency
  • Risk of Violence
  • Mitigation.  

Read an excerpt. Working with the ASD Expert: An Attorney’s Perspective by Melanie Gavisk, Assistant Federal Public Defender, District of Wyoming -
"An experts opinion is only as good - and persuasive- as the information he/she used to form it. Some of that information is out of the attorney’s control; it depends on the expert’s education, experience, and research. Nevertheless, some of that information comes from the attorney through record gathering and other efforts.

The attorney (or investigator) should gather pertinent records, such as school records, medical and psychiatric records, and records from any residential treatment placements. The attorney will likely want to consult with the ASD expert to identify other relevant materials and determine whether the expert should interview family or friends as part of the evaluation. Particularly if the client has never been diagnosed with ASD before, obtaining supporting records and information that predate the offense will bolster the reliability of the expert’s conclusion. In most cases, the attorney will want to provide the ASD expert with all available evidence about the crime, including police reports and witness interviews.

After the expert has reviews relevant discovery and records, he/she will almost certainly need to interview the client, and perhaps friends and family as well. ... The client and other interviewees should clearly understand the purpose of the evaluation and limits of confidentiality. Although the expert will certainly explain this at the time of the interviews, preparing the client beforehand avoids unnecessary confusion. Explaining the importance of the evaluation - and the importance of providing accurate, complete, and detailed information- can ensure that interviewees are candid during their interviews. In addition, preparing the client upfront for the possibility that the report will not be helpful, and clearly explaining that the expert is independent, can minimize anger and disappointment later.
If the expert has not conducted a comprehensive review of relevant materials, he/she may be subject to harmful cross-examination. The expert’s failure to review such materials can also be grounds for reversal."
Report Shows Rate of Mental Illness in California Jails is on the Rise
report  from California Health Policy Strategies indicates that the prevalence of mental illness in California jails is on the rise. The report analyzed data from 50 counties regarding mental health cases and the rate of prescriptions for psychotropic medications in jails between 2009 and 2019.

Rising Numbers

The data came from the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) Jail Profile Survey (JPS). The JPS has been distributed to jails since 2002 and is a tool used to collect data on local jails and jail systems. In the survey, counties are asked to report the number of inmates receiving medications for identified mental health issues and the number of open mental health cases. The survey is taken on a monthly basis.

The data analyzed from 2009-2019 indicated that the number of California statewide jail inmates with an active mental health case or a prescription for psychotropic medication increased significantly. In 2009, there was an average of approximately 15,500 open mental health cases reported by counties on a monthly basis. By 2019, this number jumped to about 22,000. This is a 42% increase in the number of open mental health cases in county jails.

In addition, the percentage of the jail population with an open mental health case rose from 19% in 2009 to 31% in 2019. In fact, the number of incarcerated individuals overall decreased, while the number of mentally ill inmates increased. The data regarding psychotropic medication indicated a similar trend.
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, Criminal Justice Section Council, and Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Magazine Learn more .
Further Reading
Locked in Limbo : A Catalyst Project
Every year,  thousands of mentally ill men and women languish in Texas' county jails . Incapable of standing trial, they wait in line behind hundreds of other people — sometimes over a year — for a bed in a state hospital to  get the help they need . As Texas' population booms, its leaders have recognized this problem is also growing, but their efforts to shrink the backlog have failed. In 2019, the number of people stuck on the state's waitlist — with their  cases stalled and constitutional rights possibly violated  — reached historic levels. These are the stories of the  families caught up in this broken system  and the state's  struggle to find solutions .
The Coronavirus Mental Health Crisis Hits Home
A journal of the Plague Year: Week 9.
BELGRADE LAKES, Maine — Two things you can say about spring in Maine. One, that May comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. And also that June showers bring July flowers.

It’s always a long winter here, but this year it has been longer than ever, and not only because on April 10 we got nearly a foot of snow. This year, along with most others in America, we have been shut inside, feeling the weight of winter — as well as the weight of many other things as well.
For Mentally Ill Defendants, Coronavirus Means Few Safe Options
While their mental health deteriorates, some are stuck in jail as hospitals are decreasing admissions to prevent the spread of infections.

Keith had spent over four months in the Hillsboro, Oregon, county jail—charged with robbing a deli with a fake gun—when his delusions returned this February. In a phone call to his father, he rambled about drinking bleach, being exposed to nuclear waste, and fearing going blind. Keith, who is being identified by his first name to protect his privacy, had a history of schizophrenia.
Why police need training to interact with people on the spectrum
Encounters between law enforcement and people with autism often go wrong, but some police departments are beginning to train their officers.

Johanna Verburg admits she wasn’t on her "best behavior" the day she was arrested. It was a chilly morning in March in Sheffield, Alabama, near where Verburg lives. She was waiting for her 11-year-old daughter to finish a therapy session when she got into an argument with another woman in the waiting area of the therapist’s office. As the argument escalated, the office manager called the police.
Gulf War Illness Can Persist 25 Years in Female Veterans
More than a quarter-century after the Gulf War, female combat veterans have nearly double the risk of reporting more than 20 total medical symptoms, including cognitive and respiratory issues, compared to their fellow female veterans who were not deployed, according to a new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
Bobby Moore Has Just Been Granted Parole
His case changed how Texas defines intellectual disabilities. After 40 years in prison, he's just been granted parole. Moore was resentenced from the death penalty to life in prison last year after the U.S. Supreme Court determined he was intellectually disabled. Since he had already served 40 years, he was immediately eligible for parole.
FREE E-Book! Families' Guide to Working with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

When your family member with a mental disability has been arrested or charged with a crime, it can be a confusing and challenging experience that leaves you unsure of where to turn for answers. Here are some key things families can do to help the defense attorney handling their case.
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Best Practices Manual

Elizabeth’s book, Representing People with Mental Disabilities was published by the American Bar Association a little over a year ago. Response to the book has been overwhelming with many attorneys and activists happy to have such a resource.Topics include Competency, Sanity, Neuroimaging, False Confessions, and Prison Conditions.