As her defense to charges of sexually assaulting six male students, the attorney for Maplewood teacher Nicole Dufault on Tuesday claimed she suffers from a brain condition that left her defenseless to the students’ over-aggressive behavior.
Dufault’s attorney, Timothy Smith, said she suffers from “frontal lobe syndrome,” a condition that experts have said is associated with socially inappropriate behavior and the inability to control impulses, among other symptoms.
“Ms. Dufault suffers from frontal lobe syndrome which has rendered her defenseless to over-aggressive behavior, and that is exactly what she was exposed to,” Smith said in a statement to NJ Advance Media.
“Such will be our defense to a number of counts to the indictment,” Smith added. “The remaining counts are either legally deficient or resulted from opportunistic tendencies.”
Smith said in a brief phone interview on Tuesday that Dufault’s syndrome stems from brain surgery she underwent following complications due to her first pregnancy. During that surgery, a shunt and the related apparatus was installed in Dufault’s brain, Smith said.
Smith declined further comment.
In response to Smith’s statement, Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Gina Iosim, who is handling the case, said the following in a statement:
“All too often victims of sexual abuse are demonized by their abusers. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for a victim, especially a juvenile victim, to come forward knowing the stigma some in society place on victims of sexual abuse. We continue to prepare for trial so our juvenile victims may find the justice they are seeking.”
Dufault – a single mother of two young sons – is accused of engaging in sexual activity with the six students on multiple occasions between 2013 and 2014, prosecutors said. The students were between 14 and 15 years old at the time of the incidents, prosecutors said.
The sexual encounters allegedly occurred in Dufault’s classroom and in her car, court documents state. In one alleged incident, one student recorded a cell phone video of Dufault performing oral sex on another student in her car, court documents state.
Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin recently downgraded four of the child endangerment charges from second- to third-degree crimes, because prosecutors had not presented evidence to the grand jury that Dufault had assumed responsibility for the care of two of the alleged victims.
The frontal lobes – which are located behind one’s forehead – control the so-called executive functions, including the ability to reason and plan, according to a 2010 report from the National Institute on Aging.
The lobes help manage emotional responses and “enable people to control inappropriate social behaviors, such as shouting loudly in a library or at a funeral,” the report said.