Main Article Content

Karina Royer Gagnier
Timothy E Moore
Justice Melvyn Green


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, justice system, deficits, awareness, false confessions, rehabilitation


Individuals with FASD exhibit deficits in many domains that can include memory, learning, behavioural inhibition, executive functioning, interpersonal skills, and language. These deficits have serious implications for affected persons when they become engaged in the legal system. In 2004, Moore and Green reviewed case law and psychological literature which suggested that FASD-related deficits placed affected individuals at a significant disadvantage in the justice system. According to them, this disadvantage stemmed from the limited awareness and knowledge of FASD demonstrated by key players in the justice system, as well as the scarcity of effective interventions in place to rehabilitate affected defendants. The aim of the current paper is to assess the extent to which awareness of FASD-related issues in the Canadian justice system has advanced since the publication of Moore and Green’s conclusions. First, the deficits associated with FASD and their implications for the justice system are described. Next, recent case law and psychological evidence are reviewed as we consider issues of witness reliability and false confessions. The significance of FASD for sentencing, fitness to stand trial, and the Not Criminally Responsible by Reason of Mental Disorder defence are also briefly discussed. Finally, emerging system wide responses to FASD-related issues are presented. Overall, it appears that the call for closer examination of FASD by the justice system has been answered, but a need for increased education and awareness remains.

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