In a recent Virginia case involving the electronic solicitation of a minor, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his guilty conviction. According to the defendant, the trial court did not give enough weight to an expert witness’s testimony regarding the defendant’s recent diagnosis of autism. This social disorder, said the defendant, affected his capacity to understand the wrongfulness of his actions. The court ultimately disagreed with the defendant, and his conviction was affirmed.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the grandmother of an eleven-year-old girl reported to the police in 2018 that she had found sexually explicit messages on her granddaughter’s tablet. These messages were between the girl and the defendant in this case, mostly over Instagram and Google Hangouts. In the messages, the defendant had sent pictures of his genitalia, asked for pictures of the girl’s genitalia, and called the girl “babe” and “my girlfriend.”
Officers found the defendant at his place of work and arrested him for electronic solicitation of a minor. Upon his arrest, the defendant immediately admitted to his actions and indicated that he knew he should not have been speaking to the girl in an inappropriate way. The defendant stated that he knew the girl was eleven years old, and that he wished he could turn back time and do things differently so as not to engage in the sexual conversations in the first place.
The defendant was found guilty. At his sentencing hearing, the defendant had an expert witness testify regarding his recent diagnosis of autism. According to the expert, the defendant’s autism made him less capable of understanding right from wrong, and this mental condition was relevant in deciding on the length of the defendant’s sentence. The court ruled that the underlying mental condition did not have an effect on the defendant’s conviction. On appeal, the defendant argued this ruling was incorrect, and that instead the court should have more heavily considered his struggle with the social disorder.
The court of appeals reviewed the expert witness’s testimony. Importantly, the witness had conceded that the defendant had the mildest form of autism, that he was recently diagnosed, that he was not receiving treatment for the disorder, and that he was in fact aware of the victim’s age at the time of their messaging.
Because of these facts, the court decided that the defendant’s autism was not a reason to reduce his sentence. It was clear, said the court, that the defendant was an intelligent individual who was fully aware of the illegality of his actions. Thus, the defendant’s appeal was denied.
Have You Been Charged with a Sex Crime in Virginia?
If you are facing criminal charges for a sex crime involving a minor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, call our office at Robinson Law, PLLC. We offer aggressive, informed representation that doesn’t stop until you get the results you need. For a free and confidential consultation, call us today at 703-542-3616. We are immediately available to meet with you to discuss your options and get started working on a compelling defense to the charges you face.