Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Disability Rights: A Case Study on the Trial of Anna Stubblefield
Prerna & Vaagisha*
Volume 11 Issue 2 (2018)
Therapeutic Jurisprudence studies the manner in which law may be used as a tool for healing. By integrating law and psychological health, this field of legal scholarship seeks to evaluate the ameliorative effect of the legal process on the well-being of the participants. The object of its study is to determine how legal rules and procedures can and ought to be re-shaped to enhance their therapeutic potential, without having to compromise the due process of law. In the aforementioned context, this paper examines how the core principles underlying therapeutic jurisprudence were ignored by the District Court of New Jersey while dealing with the high-profile case of Anna Stubblefield, who was charged with criminal sexual assault for having an allegedly non-consensual sexual relationship with a man who had cerebral palsy. The paper will analyse the instances in the trial where his alleged ‘lack of intelligence’ was tried to be established at the cost of dehumanising the victim. Continuing in the same vein, this paper also attempts to look at how language used in our day-to-day lives is inherently loaded with ableist and sanist assumptions so as to maintain power structures – a hierarchy designed specifically to subject certain bodies reflective of any differentness to be considered undesirable, and tries to develop an interdisciplinary understanding to address the issue. We further suggest adopting a ‘situational approach’ in such cases to ensure that the intellectually disabled participants are treated with dignity. Further, the paper argues that the victim’s sexual autonomy was not considered in the wake of his disability, and considers the manner in which the ableist and patronising approach adopted by such policies disregards the agency of differently abled individuals.