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December 19, 2009

Should autism provide a basis for a reduced federal sentence?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this news story about a prominent cyber criminal, which is headlined "Hacker claims form of autism, seeks lean sentence."  Here are the details:

One of the world's most notorious hackers claims he may have a form of autism and has asked a judge to be lenient in sentencing him for helping mastermind the biggest identity theft in U.S. history.

The judge has delayed sentencing Albert Gonzalez in Boston federal district court for three months, to give prosecutors time to assess the hacker's claim that he may suffer from Asperger syndrome.

Gonzalez's attorney hired a psychiatrist who determined that the hacker's criminal behavior "was consistent with description of the Asperger's disorder" and "Internet addiction," according to court documents. Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism. Sufferers' interests in specific subjects may border on the obsessive, according to the Autism Society.

Prosecutors assert that Gonzalez led a group of hackers who broke into computer systems and stole more than 170 million payment card numbers from data processor Heartland Payment Systems as well as retailers TJX Cos Inc BJ's Wholesale Club Inc and Barnes & Noble.

December 19, 2009 at 10:51 AM | Permalink


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If he had been one of the assistants I could see giving an additional break under some theory of being susceptible to external pressure. But probably not if he actually did lead the group.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 19, 2009 11:46:59 AM

I was born. I want my break in sentencing.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 19, 2009 11:56:08 AM

Leadership and organizing a criminal enterprise is the opposite of Asperger Syndrome. It rules it out because social isolation and poor social cue reading are required.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 19, 2009 2:35:51 PM

I am one of many, perhaps most, Aspies who reject the characterization of Aspergers as "a mild form of autism." How autistic can I be if I graduated from law school?

Meanwhile, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, about Aspergers (regardless of how it's classified) that interferes with the ability to understand the nature and consequences of one's actions or to form criminal intent.

To say "I'm an Aspie -- forgive my hacking the computer" is no different than saying "I'm a addict -- forgive my robbing the pharmacy."

Posted by: KipEsquire | Dec 19, 2009 2:57:45 PM

For this charade, a 3 month delay in sentencing. So much for swift and certain sentencing.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 19, 2009 8:10:48 PM

Another clarification. Obsessions are unpleasant and unwanted thoughts. If I am tormented by the need to count, spell, and worry about having hit a pedestrian, those are obsessions.

Thinking all day about cocaine, sex, or getting on the internet are all pleasant, desirable thoughts. Those are called addictions.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 19, 2009 11:07:53 PM

Great stuff on autism looking forward to more.

Curtis Maybin

Posted by: Curtis Maybin | Jan 2, 2010 1:50:06 AM

"I am here to empower parents and assist them in starting to enjoy their amazing children." "Our children are individuals before they are their label."


Posted by: Lee Brooker | Jan 25, 2010 11:00:57 AM

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