Wrongful arrest due to seizure activity in public is a not uncommon complication for individuals with epilepsy and other seizure disorders, not caused by illicit behaviors. There are "2.3 million Americans living with epilepsy," (Guiden, 2003) all of whom at some time have experienced challenges associated with their disease and many of whom have been the victims of wrongful arrest and incarceration.
Yet, it seems that lack of awareness of the signs symptoms and the variety and degree of seizure activity can be the source of arrest and incarceration, that would coincide with those arrests made for such occurrences as drunken disorderly conduct or drug induced dementia. This work will address the problem of wrongful arrests for seizure-related behavior in public, the degree of the problem and some possible solutions to the problem.
In general peoples with seizure disorders have nearly always had to deal with concerns and conflicts associated with seizure activity that occurs in public. Not only do they have to deal with the stigma of the exhibition of uncontrollable behavior, they occasionally have to deal with the lasting effects of wrongful incarceration. Though steps have been taken over the last few years to address this problem, especially since the introduction of the American's With Disabilities Act, there are still many strides to take. "There have been many instances in which persons having seizures have been arrested and charged with such crimes as drunk and disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, unlawful entry, even assault on a police officer. ("Arrest for Seizure-Related Behavior," 2003, http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/answerplace/Legal/criminaljustice/arrest.cfm)
The Epilepsy Foundation (EF) brought this serious problem to the attention of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during hearings on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). In its final report, the Committee stated: In order to comply with the non-discrimination mandate, it is often necessary to provide training to public employees about disability. For example, persons who have epilepsy, and a variety of other disabilities, are frequently inappropriately arrested and jailed because police officers have not received proper training in the recognition of and aid for seizures. Often, after being arrested, they are deprived of medications while in jail, resulting in further seizures. Such discriminatory treatment based on disability can be avoided by proper training. ("Arrest for Seizure-Related Behavior," 2003, http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/answerplace/Legal/criminaljustice/arrest.cfm)
In most cases seizure episodes will pass without need for intervention be it medical or otherwise but it is not uncommon for a public unaware of the problem to experience panic and call for assistance.
The visual and physical exhibition of a seizure of almost any type can be very disconcerting for someone who has not been exposed to it in the past and the disorientation that follows a seizure episode can leave an individual unable to clearly explain the problem or their needs. Professional assistance can then cost the individual with an already limiting physical disorder even greater conflict as he or she must then pay for services or in this case prove the medical condition once the episode has passed and the individual is recovering or fully recovered. "Complex partial seizures in particular are often misunderstood by police." ("Epilepsy: Legal Issues," 2001, http://userpages.umbc.edu/~gbryan1/epilepsy/legal.htm)
One particularly troubling issue associated with epilepsy and other seizure disorders is that many people who have these diseases have a further limitation of mobility in that they are often barred from obtaining driver's licenses, even in cases where the disease is medically controlled for long periods of time. Not only does this effect the ability of the individual to work and perform other tasks without conflicts it also exposes the individual to much more time in public situations. The standards for intervention, in some communities can often be troubling as this is yet another location, frequented by persons with seizure disorders that might expose them to possible unneeded and costly medical care or wrongful arrest.
Additionally, there may be challenges for individuals, with what is called a "hidden" disability to use assist animals, on public transportation, a growing trend in care plans for people who tend to have uncontrollable forms of the diseases associated with seizure behaviors. (Mathias, 1997, http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/96-0138-7.html) Though, the use of service dogs, despite the potential troubles associated with them could prove to be one of the most valuable additions to the fight to assist patients with seizure disorders in their ability to function more normally within their culture. Service dogs can act as an intermediary to seek help when it is really needed and provide basic information to witnesses and authorities with regard to the needs of the patient, experiencing seizure behaviors.
Though efforts have been made to educate and assist individuals and to train professionals who are called to the scene individuals with seizure disorders are often innately aware that there is something wrong, and they are therefore resistant to assistance, and especially restraint which can be perceived as resisting arrest. This problem has been documented for centuries and would have been significantly worse in the past as less seizure suppression medication was available to patients and the social stigma of the problem was even greater, for both the individual and the family.
An example was the case cited by Clymer in 1870. -Bisgrove- suffered from frequent epileptic seizures . Between attacks, he was good natured and amiable, but following a seizure, _he was dangerous, seizing upon anything which might be at hand, and ready to attack those who were near him. (Friendlander, 2001, p. 248)
This patient eventually committed an act of violence, purportedly within a cycle of seizure activity and was then charged with the crime and lived the rest of his life in prison. (Friendlander, 2001, p. 248) Though the crime was serious the results of the situation left the individual with little or no recourse for his arrest.
At earlier times there may have been an even greater incidence of violence and aggression, associated with seizure disorders, as the individual often did not receive reasonable care or normal socialization as a child. Many would argue that the virtual starvation of the individual from normal interactions with their peers and even other adults can result in feelings of disassociation from their culture and even their family, which can in turn feed feelings of frustration and even aggression. These symptoms could easily be mistaken for similar symptoms associated with drug use and withdrawal, a set of behaviors that are taken very seriously within many communities in the United States today as a result of the war on drugs..
In some cases the clonic portion of a complicated seizure, or the recovery period may cause the individual to have some limited awareness but be unable to control their movement, hence appearing to be drunk or having just ingested an illicit substance. "To combat this problem, the Epilepsy Foundation has developed police training materials to educate police about what seizures look like and how to offer appropriate first aid." ("Epilepsy: Legal Issues," 2001, http://userpages.umbc.edu/~gbryan1/epilepsy/legal.htm)
Not all enforcement agencies require such training and many officers are still in the dark about the behaviors and symptoms an individual with a seizure disorder might exhibit, especially since "classic" seizure behavior is not always seen and seizure events can vary greatly by person and even episode. "Seizures range from convulsions to a brief loss of awareness or confused behavior and changes in sensation ... " (Guiden, 2003)
A major problem in the public handling of psychomotor (complex partial) seizures is recognition of the symptoms. The unusual behavior associated with complex partial seizures is often misinterpreted as stemming from intoxication. A cardinal rule in the handling of any seizure is that the person should not be restrained in any way unless it is essential for his/her personal safety. ("Arrest for Seizure-Related Behavior," 2003, http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/answerplace/Legal/criminaljustice/arrest.cfm)
Seizure symptoms may even manifest as visible acts that are considered illegal, but the individual may very well be completely or partly unaware of his or her behaviors.
The person in the midst of a complex partial seizure may react violently to the restraint while unaware s/he is doing so ....While in a semi-conscious or unconscious state, an individual with complex-partial seizures may commit an undirected act which may be perceived as "criminal," e.g., shoplifting, disorderly conduct, etc., depending upon the characteristics of his seizure disorder. ("Arrest for Seizure-Related Behavior," 2003, http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/answerplace/Legal/criminaljustice/arrest.cfm)
Awareness is clearly the only real way in which wrongful arrest can be avoided. Awareness must be universal, including those who simply work with the public and those who are agents of the public. Universal awareness is not an outrageous idea and could be realized with the proper resources. The difficulties associated with determining the criminal intent of a person experiencing seizure behavior has been a historically difficult question and our society has made significant strides in the right direction.
Whether an individual's alleged criminal behavior was seizure-related is a question that can best be answered by his or her neurologist. Witnesses' reports of his/her exact behavior (as well as descriptions of his/her general behavior during a seizure) will also be…