Sleeping Beauty Snydrome: A Rare Disease Our Courts Need to Consider

When arguing that a criminal defendant is not competent, the defense counsel has an uphill battle. The standards for competency in the State of Michigan are harsh, and many times criminal defendants in need will be deemed competent despite having issues of mental capacity that are often overlooked. One disease that will not deem a defendant incompetent but will help with an argument to mitigate a crime is “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.”

“Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” is known in the medical profession as Kleine–Levin syndrome (KLS). KLS is a rare sleep disorder characterized by persistent episodic hypersomnia and cognitive or mood changes. Many patients also experience hyperphagia, hypersexuality, and other symptoms. Patients generally experience recurrent episodes of the condition for more than a decade and may return at a later age. Individual events last typically more than a week, sometimes lasting for months. The disease significantly affects the personal, professional, and social lives of sufferers. The severity of symptoms and the course of the syndrome vary between sufferers. Patients commonly have about 20 episodes over about a decade. Several months generally elapse between events.

Patients with Kleine–Levin syndrome (KLS) experience recurring events of prolonged sleep (hypersomnia). In most cases, patients sleep 15 to 21 hours a day during events. Excessive appetite (hyperphagia) and unusual cravings are present in half to two-thirds of cases. About half of patients, mainly male patients, experience dramatically increased sexual urges (hypersexuality). Several other symptoms usually accompany the syndrome, including marked changes in mood and cognitive ability. Derealization and severe apathy are present in at least 80 percent of cases. About one-third of patients experience hallucinations or delusions. Depression and anxiety occur less commonly; one study found them in about 25 percent of patients. Individuals usually cannot remember what happened during episodes. Repetitive behaviors and headaches are widely reported. Some patients act very childlike during incidents, and communication skills and coordination sometimes suffer. To gain further insight into this issue, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in the State of Michigan.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top business lawyers and researchers in our state.  When asked about “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” McManus stated, “It’s a rare disease, but when it is present, it can prove to the court that a young defendant deserves mercy. We have placed proof of the syndrome in HYTA Petitions and Sentencing Memorandums and have gotten great results. The lawyer needs to examine the complete medical history of the defendant to provide a proper defense.”

William Amadeo is a Partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in both the state of Michigan and the federal court system. Amadeo was quoted as saying, “Winning a competency motion is not an easy task, but it can happen. ( When a defendant has “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” it can be the ticket to HYTA and no jail. I first researched the issue in a New York Times article and spoke to our client’s physician to learn more about the subject. ( I’m happy to say that young man that has the syndrome is doing well, is in college, and never spent a day in the Wayne County Jail or the Michigan Department of Corrections.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate at McManus and Amadeo and a top family law attorney in our state. Kelley stated, “When you take on a child custody case, we have to look at the “A to L” factors (Best interest of the child factors). When you have a child inflicted with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, we find a situation where the child may be excelling in school but has unique needs.  These are the type of issues that need to be displayed to our courts.”

Lane Zabawa is a top criminal defense attorney in Kent County, Michigan. When asked about “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” Zabawa replied, “It’s something you rarely see, but when you do, it’s an issue that needs thorough exploration. The criminal defense lawyer needs to research the issue, provide a memorandum, and motion the argument. Doing so can be the difference between freedom and incarceration.”

While Sleeping Beauty Syndrome is a rare disease, it is one that has adverse effects on those inflicted.  To understand the syndrome takes research. Once the attorney has a client with this issue, and an understanding of the matter, the navigation through the court system can become much more manageable.

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