Autism Spectrum Condition, Good and Bad Motives of Offending, and Sentencing

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Abstract

It has been proposed that the ways in which the criminal justice system treats offenders with Autism spectrum condition (ASC) should duly account for how the condition influences the offenders’ behavior. While the recommendation appears plausible, what adhering to it means in practice remains unclear. A central feature of ASC is seen to be that people with the condition have difficulties with understanding and reacting to the mental states of others in what are commonly considered as adequate ways. This article aims to clarify how the difficulties affect the moral weight to be given to the good and bad motives of offending in sentencing offenders with ASC. I start by explicating the main points of departure of the endeavor. After that I assess the moral significance of the good and bad motives of offenders with ASC in view of four cases and a comparison with how we commonly treat people who are not as able to understand and react to the mental states of others as neurotypical adults. I suggest that considerations pertaining to what has been called the primary orientation of morality provide grounds for deeming the good motives of offenders with ASC as morally significant as those of otherwise similar neurotypical offenders and the bad motives of offenders with ASC as less morally significant than those of otherwise similar neurotypical offenders. After considering three possible objections to the suggestion, I conclude by briefly elucidating its purported import.

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