Los Angeles Juvenile Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Giving Adderall to Poor Children Who Don’t Have ADHD

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Adderall is a prescription drug that the FDA approved to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  According to a recent New York Times article, Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School,certain doctors are taking it upon themselves to prescribe Adderall to underprivileged children who don’t exhibit the symptoms of ADHD.   The doctors justify this practice on the grounds that Adderall helps children focus and earn better grades.

Some people who support this practice also point out that it is cheaper and in the short run more effective than fixing crumbling schools, making them safer, funding them properly, or doing the other things that would improve the academic performance of our children.

Several educators contacted for this article considered the subject of A.D.H.D. so controversial — the diagnosis was misused at times, they said, but for many children it is a serious learning disability — that they declined to comment. The superintendent of one major school district in California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that diagnosis rates of A.D.H.D. have risen as sharply as school funding has declined.

“It’s scary to think that this is what we’ve come to; how not funding public education to meet the needs of all kids has led to this,” said the superintendent, referring to the use of stimulants in children without classic A.D.H.D. “I don’t know, but it could be happening right here. Maybe not as knowingly, but it could be a consequence of a doctor who sees a kid failing in overcrowded classes with 42 other kids and the frustrated parents asking what they can do. The doctor says, ‘Maybe it’s A.D.H.D., let’s give this a try.’ ”

As a parent, I can see how doctors decide to ignore broader societal issues to do what they think is right for an individual student.  But as a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who defends juveniles accused of committing crimes, I know that the New York Times story misses an important aspect of prescribing Adderall to more students.  Under federal law, Adderall is a Class II controlled substance; same as cocaine.  It is a crime to use Adderall for non-therapeutic reasons.  When doctors give more students Adderall, they also increase the chances that their patients will share the drugs with friends and classmates who have not received a prescription.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.

Many states, including California, are increasingly cracking down on students who possess or distribute prescription drugs such as Adderall.  That is one reason why as matter of social matter, it’s not sensible both to encourage doctors to hand out Adderall and then criminalize the unauthorized use of Adderall by juveniles.   If, as a society we make the decision not to invest adequately in our schools, let’s not make the situation worse by criminalizing the possession of small amounts of Adderall by kids.

Unfortunately, more and more juveniles are being ensnared by the criminal justice system in connection with prescription drugs.  That’s why it’s critical to work with lawyers who are experienced in defending juveniles in criminal matters.

Brain Scan Evidence Impacts Sentences Received by Juveniles

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

A groundbreaking study published by the journal Science shows that judges are likely to be influenced by the results of brain scans that are introduced into evidence.

The brain scan evidence was introduced as part of a hypothetical case that was shown to 181 state court judges.  As reported in The New York Times, the hypothetical case involved a man who beat a restaurant manager with the butt of a gun.

In the study, three researchers at the University of Utah tracked down 181 state judges from 19 states who agreed to read a fictional case file and assign a sentence to an offender, “Jonathan Donahue,” convicted of beating a restaurant manager senseless with the butt of a gun. All of the judges learned in their files that Mr. Donahue had been identified as a psychopath based on a standard interview — that is, he had a history of aggressive acts without showing empathy.

The case files distributed to the judges were identical, except that half included testimony from a scientist described as “a neurobiologist and renowned expert on the causes of psychopathy,” who said that the defendant had inherited a gene linked to violent, aggressive behavior. This testimony described how the gene variant altered the development of brain areas that generate and manage emotion.

The neurobiological evidence tended to impact the judge’s sentences in two, contradictory ways.  Evidence that the defendant was psychopathic increased his sentence, but evidence that the defendant inherited a gene linked to violent behavior reduced the sentence imposed by the judges.

This study has far reaching and potentially troubling implications, especially for juveniles who are charged with serious, violent offenses.  The study makes clear that judges are influenced by neurobiological evidence.  On the one hand, that means that prosecutors and judges may rely too heavily on scientific evidence to conclude that a juvenile poses a long-term threat to society.  That is what happened when the judges were confronted with scientific evidence that the defendant in the hypothetical was a psychopath. On the other hand, brain scans provide hope that juveniles and others accused of crimes will be treated in a way that takes their individual circumstances, history, and predispositions into account much more than they are today.  This is what led judges to show greater leniency based on the testimony of a neurobiological expert.

As a juvenile defense lawyer in Los Angeles, one of my first reactions to reading this study related to resources.  Specifically, how on earth is the juvenile justice system going to find the money and other resources to introduce brain scan evidence in juvenile cases?  At the moment, brain scan evidence has been introduced in very few cases, most notably in death penalty cases, and usually during the appeal of those cases.  Because the brains of juveniles are still changing, neurobiological evidence is potentially more important in juvenile cases than in cases involving adults.  This is especially true where juveniles are charged with serious violent crimes.

The article published in Science may usher in the beginning of a new era in the use of brain scans in criminal cases.  That may be the future.  If it is, the juvenile justice system will need to make enormous changes to make that future a reality.