Courts need strategy for fetal-alcohol cases

Updated 2/24/2020 10:05 AM

As a justice on Illinois' Second District Appellate Court and a member of the Illinois Judges Association, my colleagues and I understand it is part of our duty to implement a fair court system, especially for those with disabilities.

With an adopted child affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), my personal and professional life has had a focus on educating members of the judicial system and changing the system to best suit those affected with FASD.


FASD results from prenatal exposure to alcohol causing a range of physical, cognitive and behavioral deficits and the condition is overrepresented in our justice system. FASD's neurological impairments interfere with the ability to navigate the justice system. FASD is a lifelong condition. but with early intervention those affected by FASD can enjoy productive lives.

The Illinois justice system must adopt policies and procedures to identify and respond effectively to FASD. This includes developing strategies to improve evaluation and diagnostic services, legal advocacy for defendants, increased access to expert screening and assessment, training for law enforcement, court personnel and other relevant professions, sentencing mitigation for nonviolent offenders, research on FASD, FASD in foster care and inclusion of FASD in state intellectual disability definitions.

I have worked with others in the judicial system to help create the FASD Task Force in DuPage County. In 2010, I proposed SB 3233, which was passed into law, requiring that all sex education classes in Illinois include instruction on the dangers of drug and alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It was the first such law in the U.S.

Disabilities resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure must be considered at all stages of the legal process. It is up to Illinois judges and lawyers to begin to educate others in their field and embrace a court system that acts accordingly to those affected by FASD.

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Justice Joseph E. Birkett

Appellate Court, 2nd Dist.


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