FASD Youths Give False Confessions

Kaitlyn McLachlan interviewed youths in the justice system and found that many with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders had given police false confessions. 

Kaitlyn McLachlan

In Canadian criminal law, a suspect’s confession to police almost always ensures the Crown will file charges, charge “high” and make the confession central to its case.

But if the suspect is a youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) there’s a distinct possibility that confession will be false.

That’s one of the surprising conclusions of an FASD study co-authored by Kaitlyn McLachlan, winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal for academic excellence, who graduates this month with a clinical forensic psychology PhD and a 4.26 grade point average.

McLachlan and collaborator Ron Roesch, an SFU psychology professor, interviewed 100 youths in provincial justice systems, half with FASD and half without. They found 43 per cent of those with FASD had given at least one false confession, two-thirds of which resulted in charges. Their reasons ranged from protecting a friend to the belief they would be released quicker.

“The FASD group has significantly impaired abilities to competently navigate the arrest and trial process,” says McLachlan, “which indicates the need for extra support.”

FASD, which results from maternal alcohol use during pregnancy, is prevalent “wherever there’s endemic poverty and/or social determinants leading to substance abuse and poor prenatal care,” says McLachlan.

The disorders’ effects can include mild to severe alcohol-related birth defects and physical, brain and neurological disabilities, as well as cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues that often put affected youngsters on the police’s radar from an early age.

McLachlan is now doing post-doctoral work at the University of Alberta, collaborating on a national FASD study with NeuroDevNet, a Canadian Networks of Centres of Excellence-funded project that studies children’s brain development.

“These kids have survived tremendous hardships including suicide attempts, losing family members to suicide or substance abuse and serious gang involvement,” she says. “We need to tap into that resilience in order to foster change.”

Found on http://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2012/fasd-youths-give-false-confessions.html 

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