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State Charges Dismissed for Threatening High School Against Autistic Boy

We were retained to represent a high school senior charged with threatening to kill or do bodily injury to faculty and students at his school.

When our client was very young, his parents learned that he was a high-functioning autistic person. While “high-functioning autistic” is not a medical diagnosis, it is used informally to refer to people with autism spectrum disorder who can speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills, like eating and getting dressed.

Our client’s parents placed him in schools that could accommodate his needs and provide him with professionals to assist as he matured. However, having autism does not free one from taunting, peer pressure, and hormonal development all teens endure.

Our Client Arrested for Making Threats

Early one morning, the police knocked on the client’s front door. An anonymous tip had been received that included two videos the client had made, one in which he referred to bringing his gang over to shoot and one in which he pretended to be a reporter covering a shooting at his high school. The police interrogated the client without knowing he was autistic, without reviewing the videos, and without obtaining his medical history.

The police arrested our client on felony charges of threatening to shoot people at his high school.

We were retained after the client was arrested. It was immediately clear from talking to our client that he communicated in a different way than most.

Assembling a Team to Develop a Defense

We immediately assembled a team of experts, including a forensic expert, an expert in autism and related disorders, a psychiatrist who specializes in risk assessment, and a former FBI polygrapher. With their findings, we opened a dialogue with the State Attorney’s Office and the school to ensure they knew the case was complicated.

We were able to show how our client communicated differently than most would when surrounded by police. We were able to show the forensic evidence did not support a conviction, much less the charges. And we were able to show that our client never planned to commit violence and possessed no real risk of committing violence in the future.

Additionally, we discussed other steps our client took while the case was pending, like finishing high school online, completing the necessary coursework to start a vocational career, and following his treatment providers’ recommendations.

Achieving a Favorable Outcome for Our Client

Our client was given a deferred prosecution agreement, and the case was eventually dismissed.

Our society lacks the basic tools to help those with autism, and law enforcement’s tools are too often used instead – arrest and charge. We are mindful that school shootings are serious matters, but that does not mean our client deserved to be a convicted felon.

As in this case, looking at the evidence, the charges, and the individual is critical to ensuring that justice is done. We believe that tenacity in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice for our clients is no virtue.

We are proud of our work in this case and would be proud to help you in yours. Schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Horwitz & Citro, P.A. in Orlando by calling us at (407) 901-5852.