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Florida to Be the First State to Institute Interview Protections for Autistic or Developmentally Disabled Individuals Involved in a Criminal Offense

In the United States, there are several protections that are put in place when law enforcement officials bring a suspect into custody for questioning. The protections were put into place to ensure that law enforcement was not able to antagonize suspects while in custody. Police custody for many is a terrifying situation, and the role of police in our society is a highly influential one. There is a fear that while in police custody, a person may feel (and rightfully so) that his/her freedom is compromised and that he/she is limited in his/her rights. The rights provided to those in custody detail that no matter what happens, there is always a right to an attorney, the individual may decline to answer questions posed by the authorities, and the individual is entitled to a certain level of respect and access to human rights. Being in custody may be a scary thing to the average person, but may be an even more difficult situation to one who is developmentally disabled and/or autistic.

The Wes Kleinert Fair Interview Act

Florida may be one of the first states in the United States to institute interview rights for suspects or victims of crimes who may be developmentally disabled or autistic. The bill providing these rights is known as the Wes Kleinert Fair Interview Act and is in the process of passing through the Florida legislature. The Act was originally drafted due to an autistic man who reported to the police that he had been sexually abused; the police proceeded to laugh him out of the building and did not further investigate these claims.

The Wes Kleinert Fair Interview Act is the first of its kind and requires that a person who has developmental deficiencies, is autistic or somewhere on the autistic spectrum, or has a related developmental disability, when speaking to the police as a suspect or a victim of a crime, must have a mental health specialist in the room during the interview.

The Use of Devices to Put Law Enforcement on Notice of Disability or Autism

The first section of the bill encouraged the use of devices or notifiers that would let law enforcement or other public safety officials know that a person involved (regardless of whether he or she is a victim or a suspect) has been diagnosed with autism or another developmental disability. The device would not only notify law enforcement or public safety officials to the person’s disability but would also require that law enforcement get in touch with the person’s family, caregiver, or primary professional in the event that he or she is involved in a crime.

The Requirement of the Presence of a Mental Health Specialist During Interviews

The mental health specialist that must be in the room during a police interview must have experience treating or assisting patients who have these developmental disabilities, or must be otherwise certified to work with those who have autism or a developmental disability.

Purpose Behind the Bill

The purpose is to go beyond the basic protections provided to those in custody by ensuring that the person who has a developmental disability is provided an advocate who understands his or her limitations. This is to ensure not only greater cooperation with law enforcement in the event the person is a victim of a crime, but more importantly, to make sure that if the person is a suspect in an investigation, that he or she understands the gravity of the situation and is not in a more vulnerable position than necessary.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense, it is important to speak with an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik who can advocating on your behalf throughout your trial. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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