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Legal Information and Resources


"Roads to Resilience: Identifying FASD in Court Involved Youth"  Oct 2021

Presenters:Dr. Ken Lyons   William Edwards Esq.  Hon. Marian Gaston

Children's Advocacy Institute University of California San Diego School of Law, Han School of Nursing, HRSA Project TeamUP

Link to materials:


FASD United (formerly NOFAS) on FASD and law enforcement and the courts:

Individuals with FASD have been shown to have a higher rate of incarceration and arrest, with approximately half of all people with FASD facing legal trouble at some point. Furthermore, the prison population has much higher rates of FASD than the general population. Individuals with an FASD in jail may face more issues such as:

  • Individuals with FASD are also more likely to be victims of crime.

  • Most crimes committed by someone with FASD are related to the brain damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure.

  • After incarceration or arrest, individuals with FASD are more likely to be victimized while incarcerated and have difficulty understanding conditions of probation.

  • They may  struggle to understand the rules as the courts usually use advanced language or give directions that may be confusing to a person with FASD.

  • Lying (confabulation) can occur when a person with FASD has poor memory and creates a story to fill in the gaps and agree with person in authority.

  • A person may steal when he has trouble understanding the concept of ownership -  if the real owner is not there, then the object has no owner.


For better insight into how FASD makes a person more vulnerable to manipulation and trouble with the law, watch these videos - Part 1 and Part 2, created by Attorney David Boulding, author of Mistakes I Have Made With FAS. NOFAS also has a series of videos on criminal justice available here.

Brown, Natalie N, and Greenspan, Stephen. Diminished culpability in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Behav Sci Law. 2021;1–13. "There is a biological basis for diminished criminal responsibility in offenders with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) just as there is in those with intellectual disability. Functional limitations affecting cognition in both neurodevelopmental conditions stem directly from structural brain damage at a gross and molecular level, which usually impairs executive functioning among other cognitive skills. Executive functioning, which includes reasoning and impulse control, is the only neural system in the brain that involves conscious thought. We argue that people with FASD who have similar brain dysfunction likewise have reduced criminal responsibility."

FASD United Fact SheetFASD: What the Justice System Should Know About Affected Individuals

PROOF Alliance Fact Sheets: FASD and the Justice System

FASD Guidebook for Police Officers

Although this guide was written for Canadian Police Officers, it is an excellent reference for any public safety officer.

"Many specialists suggest that a significant number of individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system have FASD. Only medical professionals are qualified to diagnose FASD, but law enforcement officers must be aware of FASD, its characteristics and behaviors. This is necessary so they can identify and deal effectively and appropriately with clients who come into contact with the law as victims, suspects or witnesses. I encourage you to become informed and to form linkages with health and social agencies and community groups that provide support to FASD individuals, their families and communities. By working with these groups, you will contribute to the well-being of communities affected by these disorders. Your support in promoting public awareness about FASD, through substance abuse awareness programs may even prevent future cases."

Disabilty Rights Maine

Disability Rights Maine (DRM) is Maine’s Protection & Advocacy agency for people with disabilities. This means we represent people whose rights have been violated or who have been discriminated against based on their disability. We also provide training on rights and self-advocacy and we advocate for public policy reform. DRM believes that people with disabilities must:

  • Be treated with respect and be free from abuse;

  • Control the decisions that affect their lives;

  • Receive the services and supports necessary to live independently;

  • Have the opportunity to work and contribute to society;

  • Have equal access to the same opportunities afforded all other members of society; and

  • Fully participate in all aspects of society: education, work, and community.

Dr. Larry Burd Ph.D and William Edwards Esq.Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Implications for Attorneys and the Courts"People with FASD have disproportionate rates of contact with child welfare, foster care, and juvenile and adult corrections. Nearly one out of four children in juvenile corrections has FASD, and prevalence estimates range from 23 percent to 60 percent. FASD prevalence in adult corrections ranges from 11 percent to 25 percent. Close to 100 percent of people with FASD in these systems have not been correctly diagnosed and, as a result, do not have a diagnosis-informed treatment plan."

PROOF Alliance

FASD and the Criminal Justice System

"Youth and adults with an FASD often have a form of brain injury that may make it difficult for them to stay out of trouble with the law.They may not know how to deal with police, attorneys, judges, social workers, psychiatrists, corrections and probation officers, and others they may encounter."

The average age that children with an FASD begin having trouble with the law is 12.8 years old.*

*American Bar Association. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): What You Need to Know to Help Your Clients. 

University of Washington Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit

FASD and Legal Issues

American Bar Association 

Resolution Approved by ABA House of Delegates August 7, 2012

"Because lawyers and judges are largely unaware of this disability and its impact, the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk, following its February 2012 half-day CLE program on FASD at the ABA’s last Midyear Meeting, sponsored this policy resolution to promote improvements in the legal and judicial response to those with FASD."


March 3, 2021

Brown, N., et al. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: An Assessment Strategy for the Legal Context. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 42–43 (2015) 144–148

Pei J, et al. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System: A Research Summary. J Ment Health Clin Psychol (2018) 2(4): 48-52

Flannigan, K., et al. Neurocognitive functioning in young offenders with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 65 (2019) 101347

Petrenko, Christie L.M., Ph.D, et al.Prevention of Secondary Conditions in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Identification of Systems-Level Barriers. Matern Child Health J. 2014 August ; 18(6):1496–1505 

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