Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Free Pass

My wife was studying for a law degree over 20 years ago, and I can still remember the daunting task of memorizing tons of sections and sub-sections of numerous statutes. She was dealing with a chapter on criminal law one day when the subject of "temporary insanity" came up as a possible defense. 

I was fascinated by the idea of how an accused person can escape punishment on account of a "mental blackout" temporarily; meaning that he was not acting with intent. Now I'm sure there is a better way to express it—in a lawyerly way, if you like—and of course I'd imagine that there are several very strict requirements to be satisfied first before one can rely on the defense of "temporary insanity".

There are of course many other circumstances when one is not in full control of his acts, such as when one is under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or when one has some sort of mental issues; or conditions such as autism. 

In the case of autism, however, it's not really a matter of not having control of one's acts; rather, the behavior or mental capacity is that of a mentally-underdeveloped person. Such is the case of Ahmad Ziqri Morshidi, an autistic man who was arrested for allegedly molesting a woman. According to the article, Persatuan Child Sabah has launched a petition, calling for "Ahmad Ziqri to be treated fairly", and that it has received over 17,000 signatures.

I can readily accept that an autistic person should be treated like an autistic person, but it shouldn't just end there; I'm afraid it's not that simple. If he is liable to act in a way that can cause harm or disrupt the enjoyment of freedom to others around him, then preventive measures should be put in place to minimize the possibility of that from happening. If he needs to be put under counseling, or even strict supervision when he is in public, then I suppose that's what needs to be done.

I honestly sympathize with Ahmad Ziqri, it's not his choice to be born with autism. But the reality is that there is no such thing as a "free pass" on account of mental or medical disorder, because fairness is a two-way street—while we want fairness for Ahmad Ziqri, we should also not forget that we must be fair to all those people around him too. It is entirely possible that one of these days, Ahmad Ziqri may end up molesting one of those people who've signed the petition, or their loved ones. It is very easy to sign petitions when we don't know the victim, but I suspect maybe we might think differently if we ourselves are the victims.