South Florida

Judge finds autistic Miami man ‘competent’ to stand trial on child-porn charges

An autistic Miami man with an IQ of 73 is “competent” to stand trial on federal charges of downloading child pornography after undergoing a psychological evaluation to gauge his ability to assist in his own defense, a federal magistrate judge has ruled.

Alberto “Tony” Rodriguez — who was previously found “incompetent” by a court-appointed psychologist — was further evaluated by a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychologist after undergoing a legal course and testing to see if his competency could be restored.

The prison psychologist found that Rodriguez's competency was restored and Magistrate Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes agreed with him in her ruling issued Tuesday.

Rodriguez's defense attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, challenged the prison psychologist's conclusion with the testimony of two South Florida psychologists who found that his 24-year-old client is autistic, emotionally immature and incapable of reasoning.

But in her ruling, the magistrate judge ruled that the “standard does not require that a defendant be able to assist in preparing the defense, but be able to consult with his lawyer and assist in his defense. ... Thus, notwithstanding Rodriguez's established diagnosis of high functioning autism spectrum disorder and borderline intellectual function, [I conclude] that he meets the legal standard of competency to stand trial.”

Rodriguez’s defense team, which is working pro bono on his case, can appeal this decision to U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro. Rodriguez, who was granted a $50,000 bond and is living with his parents, faces up to 20 years in prison on the Internet-related child porn charges.