Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: An Issue Often Missed By Defense Counsel

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a condition that affects an individual before their birth. Many defendants in the criminal justice system have suffered from this syndrome without ever expressing such to their attorneys. Today, we will explain the syndrome and gain insight from leaders of the Michigan legal community.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a child’s condition that results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome causes brain damage and growth problems. The problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome vary from child to child. Still, defects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome are not reversible. In addition to physical defects, quite often, the psychological issues associated with the disease can help in the criminal defendant’s advocacy.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo is Ann Arbor, Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/matthew-c-mcmanus.html) McManus has written successful briefs and memorandums on this topic. When asked for insight, McManus stated, “When you research this topic, you should start by going to the Mayo Clinic’s website. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/). A quick study displays that when alcohol enters your bloodstream and reaches your developing fetus by crossing the placenta. Exposure to alcohol before birth can harm the development of tissues and organs and cause permanent brain damage in your baby. Later in life, if the baby becomes a criminal defendant, a good defense lawyer can trace an argument back to this condition.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and one of the top divorce lawyers in Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/jennifer-kelley.html). Kelley added insight when she started, “Difficulty in school is a major indicator of this syndrome. When a child needs an IEP (Independent Educational Program), we have a situation where this could be attributed to a difficult time in their birth. Drinking while pregnant causes many hardships for the child and increases the chances of becoming a criminal defendant.”

Christian Weisenberg is the founder of “The Fideles Law Firm” in Howell, Michigan, and the Executive Director of “The Adolescent Redemption Project.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/christian-wiesenberg-5632a164/), (https://www.adolescentredemptionproject.org/). Weisenberg, who has gained a reputation as a top-flight appellate attorney, stated, “Whenever we have a criminal defendant, we search for two things. The first thing is proving their innocence, and the second is their youth. When we take a topic such as fetal alcohol syndrome, we see a tragedy that stems before their youth. The competent criminal defense lawyer needs to study this topic if it is present in their client.”

Ashlee Duplessis is the founder of Duplessis Law in Royal Oak, Michigan, and has quickly become a top criminal defense lawyer in Michigan. (https://detroitlegaldefense.com/attorney-profile/). Duplessis spoke of this issue when she said, “I have encountered this issue in both my Wayne and Genesee County, Michigan docket. As defense lawyers, we need to study our client’s history and unravel these issues that have led to many successful results. There is a clear defense that the presence of this issue deserves leniency in our court system.”

Megan A. Mast of the Grand Rapids, Michigan firm Tanis Schultz is one of Western Michigan’s top criminal attorneys.  (https://www.tanisschultz.com/about-us/megan-a-mast/). Mast spoke of Fetal alcohol syndrome when she stated, “Recently I was encountered with a complicated case that had an array of confessions. We had planned to run a “Walker Hearing” to address this issue. Still, we found records that the defendant had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This led to a motion for a downward departure, and our client is a free woman today.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top trial attorneys across Michigan.  (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/william-amadeo.html). Amadeo provided commentary when he said, “Far too often, the defense counsel is not even aware of this issue. The reality is that the way Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is viewed in Washtenaw County is different from how the issues are addressed in Eaton County. You need to understand the number of circuit court judges and know their belief systems before diving into making a motion to quash based upon the disease. In a county such as Shiawassee, where you have one circuit court judge that cares for issues such as this, you may be able to make a mental health appeal easier as opposed to a Wayne County when you are on a blind draw. Location is as important as diligence when you go down this road. Fighting for your client is not a one size fits all proposition, and Fetal alcohol syndrome, when explored properly, can be the difference between residing at the Michigan Department of Corrections and breathing free air.”

While Fetal alcohol syndrome is a little-known issue, it is an issue that can be utilized when advocating for the criminal defendant. The syndrome itself presents a Stanaway Motion in reverse.

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