Deleterious Effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder on Competency to Stand Trial

  • Jerrod Brown Pathways Counseling Center, Inc., American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS)
  • Jeff Haun
  • Natalie Novic Brown
  • Patricia A. Zapf


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, produces brain damage that leads to an array of cognitive, social, and adaptive disabilities.  Related symptoms may include suggestibility and confabulation contributing to inaccurate testimony and false confessions.  Complicating matters, functional impairments associated with the disorder may not be readily apparent to legal and forensic mental health professionals, which can lead to misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis.  Improving identification of this disorder and conducting thorough and reliable competency evaluations is important in order to protect the constitutional rights’ of defendants.


Keywords: Competency to stand trial, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), legal




Author Biographies

Jerrod Brown, Pathways Counseling Center, Inc., American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS)
Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS, is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways provides programs and services benefiting individuals impacted by mental illness and addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS), and the Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Scholars Today (FST). Jerrod holds graduate certificates in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Other Health Disabilities (OHD), and Traumatic-Brain Injuries (TBI). Jerrod is certified as a Youth Firesetter Prevention/Intervention Specialist, Thinking for a Change (T4C) Facilitator, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Trainer, and a Problem Gambling Treatment Provider. Jerrod is currently in the dissertation phase of his doctorate degree program in psychology. 
Jeff Haun
Jeff Haun, Psy.D., ABPP, completed his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Pacific University and a postdoctoral fellowship in forensic-clinical psychology through the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is a licensed psychologist (Minnesota) and is board-certified in forensic psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been employed as a forensic psychologist at Minnesota State Operated Forensic Services since 2008, where he conducts a variety of forensic evaluations with juveniles and adults, offers consultation and training, and provides clinical supervision and training within the State Operated Forensic Services Forensic Psychology Fellowship Program. In addition, he provides consultation and peer review services at PsyBar LLC, and has taught undergraduate courses on an adjunct basis at Gustavus Adolphus College. 
Natalie Novic Brown

Natalie Novick Brown is a licensed psychologist in Washington State, Oregon, Florida, and Arkansas. In her 20 years of practice, she has specialized in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, and child development among other things. Dr. Brown obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Washington in Seattle, which included an 18-month internship in forensic evaluation that was followed by a post-doctoral fellowship in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) with Dr. Ann Streissguth (pioneer researcher in the field). Dr. Brown founded and is the Program Director for FASDExperts (, a multidisciplinary group of professionals that conducts forensic FASD evaluations in capital cases throughout the United States. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor (courtesy staff) in the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, where she consults with the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit on secondary disabilities and conducts research on FASD. Dr. Brown has published numerous articles and book chapters on FASD and conducted national and international trainings for legal, criminal justice, government, and mental health professionals. 

Patricia A. Zapf

Patricia A. Zapf obtained her Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic psychology from Simon Fraser University in Canada and currently holds the position of Professor in the Department of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. Dr. Zapf was appointed Fellow of the American Psychological Association and Distinguished Member of the American Psychology-Law Society in 2006 for outstanding contributions to the field of law and psychology for her work in competency evaluation. In addition to her research, she serves as consultant to various criminal justice and policy organizations and has a private practice in forensic assessment.