Virginia’s Court of Appeals has rejected the argument that a convicted man’s autism was largely responsible for exchanging explicit photos and words online with a 10-year-old girl.
Timothy James Suhay had claimed a Rockingham County Circuit Court judge should have delayed sentencing him under a 2020 Virginia law which gives the judge the ability to defer disposition if the defendant is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or certain intellectual disabilities.
Suhay was sentenced to 10 years in prison after detectives found a 98-page Google Hangouts chat log between him and the girl, which included nude photos and suggestions of sexual activity.
In his appeal, Suhay’s attorneys presented testimony from a licensed clinical psychologist who said Suhay displayed two primary symptoms of ASD: “Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction,” as well as “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.”
In addition, his attorneys said his excessive online social media use was typical of a person with autism, and that he immediately thought of her as his girlfriend and “considered their relationship to be more serious and more meaningful than it really was.”
In its argument, Virginia’s Attorney General’s Office said Suhay had been diagnosed with the mildest form of autism, and that “there is no indication that Mr. Suhay has any cognitive problems that would have prevented him from understanding the factual illegality of sexual solicitation of a minor.”
During his interview with detectives, Suhay had acknowledged the girl “said she was 10, 11,” and that he had sent “a dirty picture” to the girl and that “I know I’m in trouble for saying that.”
In its decision, the Court of Appeals panel supported the trial court’s finding that “Suhay’s electronic solicitation of a minor was not caused by, nor had a direct and substantial relationship to, his autism spectrum disorder,” and upheld the circuit court’s sentence of 10 years in prison.