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Dissociative Personality Disorder And Criminal Liability

Psycho is a 1960’s thriller movie and is one of the first movies to introduce the concept of dissociative personality disorder to the world. In this movie, the central character Norman Bates, suffers from Dissociative Personality Disorder and commits crimes when his ‘alter’ is in control. This alter personality is based on his deceased mother, who he had killed a few years back. There is a lot of curiosity and skepticism revolving dissociative personality disorder. This is due to the fact that the condition is extremely rare and can be easily faked and exploited. A lot of legal and medical professionals don’t even think that it exists. It is difficult for our minds to comprehend the complexity and nature of DPD. Through this movie review, this paper attempts to analyze dissociative personality disorder as a defense of insanity against criminal liability. It will then focus on approaches taken by courts with respect to defense of insanity and analysis of Section 84 of Indian Penal Code which relates to the same. 
DPD is a psychological condition that involves drastic ‘disassociation’ that leads to obstruction of an individual’s ability to process thoughts, memories or their sense of identity.[1] Basic features of this condition include the existence of two or more unique identities that periodically ‘take control’ of the individual’s conduct.[2] These identities that take charge are popularly called ‘alters’. The individual may also have memory lapses when the alter is dominating their behavior and may also be disoriented at times.[3] Usually, DPD develops during childhood as a coping mechanism, as a consequence of the child dealing with overwhelming environment. External pressures such as mental, physical abuse or trauma can trigger DPD. 
 In psycho, Norman Bates was already troubled from before because of his father’s death. And post that, Norman and his mother shared a very strange, close bond with his mother being overly dominating and possessive of him. When his mother started getting involved with a man, Norman felt isolated, betrayed and threatened. He felt as if he had replaced him. So, he killed his mother and the man she was seeing. Killing his mother scarred him and he could not get over the guilt and this was too much for him to deal with. To cope up with this unbearable feeling, he went into denial of having killed her and stole her corpse. Getting the corpse was not enough as he had to make himself feel as if she were still alive. As a result of this trauma, he developed dissociative personality disorder with the formation of an alter identity that resembled his mother. This alter also had the qualities that Norman thought his mother possessed, like being overly possessive about him. So, whenever he was attracted towards a woman, his alter would take control and kill her. This way, he committed the murder of four people when his alter was in charge. 
Norman cannot be excused from criminal liability just on the ground that he suffers from DPD. This is because medical insanity and legal insanity are two different things. To claim a defense of insanity, the burden is on him to prove that during the time the offence took place, his mental condition was hampered by a psychological disorder, such that he lost his ability to reason.[4]
One view that was adopted in cases like these with respect to defense of insanity was ‘specific alter’. [5] This approach only looks at the frame of mind of the personality that was ‘in control’ while the commission of the crime. [6] So, if the accused suffers from the condition of DPD, the onus is on them to establish that ‘the alter’ that was in control when committing such crime was insane at the time. [7] So according to this approach, the ‘defendant’ whose soundness is to be accessed is not the host personality but the ‘alter’ that did the crime. [8] So even if the host personality did not know about the alter committing offences, it would not matter because the alter is on trial and not the host personality. This approach can be seen adopted in the case of State v Grimsley. Here, the accused, i.e. Robin Grimsley was prosecuted for drinking and driving. On prognosis, it was revealed that Jennifer, her ‘alter’, had taken charge of her conduct when the crime took place. [9] The court held that it did not matter if Robin was not conscious during the commission of the offence and that it was enough that her alter that was in control was conscious and guilty of the offence. [10]
The ‘specific alter’ view is problematic because it fails to acknowledge the ‘switching activity’ that is central to this condition. It has been established by experts that the transition from one personality to the other could happen even within a few seconds as a consequence of anxiety or other triggers. [11] So, if this alteration of swapping from one personality to the other is an ‘involuntary’ process or a reflex that is automatic, then holding the accused guilty using the ‘specific alter’ approach does not appear right. [12]
This is as opposed to the ‘mixed alter’ view. In this, the soundness of each identity is accessed and the accused would be able to claim the insanity defense if any of his/her identities fulfill the insanity defense benchmarks. It does not have to be the alter that was in charge when the offence was committed. [13] This perspective is also troublesome because validity of insanity should be concentrated on the original, host personality’s mental state when the crime was committed and not of their various alters. This is because based on this, even if the original defendant was in control of his actions and guilty of the crime, they would be let off if any one of his alters that was not present during the relevant time was insane. [14] Due to a lot of enigma attached to DPD, courts have over the years relied on unfounded accounts of specialists. This has given way to them assessing the soundness of some other identities of the defendant, even though just ‘one person’ is under prosecution. [15]
Individuals suffering from DPD should be criminally liable when their original personality is complicit in the crime. Like in the case of State vs Moore, the defendant kept some children hostage and terrorized them when her alter, Billy Joel, was in control of her behavior. But here, her original personality, i.e. Marie Moore, was also complicit in the crime. She was responsible for acting as if Billy called her and gave her commands as to what ill-treatment was to be done to the children. [16] So, because both the identities were cognizant about the offence and intentionally participated in it, the accused could not be excused from criminal liability on the grounds of insanity. [17]
The stance taken by the bench in U.S vs Denny-Shaffer makes sense to me. In this case, Bridget Denny was on trial for kidnaping. She was diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder and it was established that her ‘alter’, was in control when the offence took place. [18] The court thought it would be irrational to restrict the attention on the alter being conscious and guilty of the crime. They reasoned that disregarding the fact that the ‘host’ identity was not cognizant of the crime was not reasonable. [19] So, here because the host personality was unable to comprehend the ‘nature’ and ‘wrongfulness’ of the offence, she was acquitted. [20]
In my opinion, if the original or host personality was absent when the alter committed the crime, then he/she could not have known that the offence committed was ‘wrongful’ or ‘contrary to law’ because he was not present there at that point. [21] He could not have even known the ‘nature of the act’ because he was not conscious during its commission. In psycho, Norman bates was completely unaware of the crime being committed by his alter when it was taking place as he was not conscious. His alter ego, resembling his mother had complete control over his body during the commission of those offences. It was only after the murders took place that he came to know about it. And even then, he had a bona fide belief based on assumption, that his mother, who he thought was alive, committed those crimes.

He did try to cover the murders up because he thought he was protecting his mother by doing so. Therefore, in my opinion, Norman Bates may be culpable so far as being an ‘accessory after the fact’ of murders and getting ‘rid of the evidence’ so as to cover up the offences which in his view were done by his mother are concerned. Although, he should not be criminally liable for the murders because he fulfils the requirements of defense of insanity under section 84 of the IPC. Norman was not capable of knowing the ‘the nature of the act’ or that it was ‘wrongful’ or ‘against the law’ because he wasn’t there when it took place. He was not conscious and his body was ‘involuntarily’ taken over by his overpowering alter.
The whole understanding behind insanity as a defense against criminal responsibility is founded on the idea that during the period the offence took place, the accused was going through a psychological disorder because of which he couldn’t realize what he was doing and that it is wrongful or illegal. [22] Murder has always been considered the ‘gravest’ offence against human kind. This is why having ‘mens rea’ or guilty mind is important for someone to be labelled a ‘murderer’.

An act alone is not a crime; only when it is committed with a ‘guilty mind’ does it become a crime.[23] If the accused was legally insane during the commission of the offence, then he could not possess the necessary ingredient of guilty mind and hence is excused from criminal responsibility. [24] Norman did not have a guilty mind when he murdered those individuals as he was mentally not present there at the time they were being murdered. So according to me, he should get a relief from conviction on the grounds of insanity. 
Different courts have adopted different perspectives over the years and there is absence of consensus on an ideal way to deal with criminal liability of offenders suffering from DPD. [25] Many legal professionals also believe that offenders with DPD should not be allowed to claim defense of insanity as it is easy for people to abuse or take advantage of this defense. It is true that DPD can be falsified but to beat this, proper evaluation and assessment should be done by credible psychologists and other professionals.

This is because laws should be inclusive. A resource which is used by many individuals should not be taken away just because some people take advantage of it. Attempts should be made to analyze the facts property to determine which alter was responsible for the offence and to what extent other personalities participated. 
References Used:
  • Elyn Saks & Stephen Behnke, Jekyll on trial: multiple personality disorder and criminal law 9 (NYU Press 2000)
  • State v. Moore 113 N.J. 239 (1988)
  • United States v. Denny-Shaffer, 2 F.3d 999 (1993)
  • State v. Grimsley,444 U.S. 57,60 (1986)
  • Suresh B Math et al, Insanity Defense: Past, Present, and Future, 37(4) Indian J Psychol Med.381,381-387(2015).
  • Kevin Dawkins, Dissociative Identity Disorder: Persons, Personalities and Criminal Responsibility, 3 N.Z. L. REV. 557, 562 (1998).
  • Stephen H. Behnke, Assessing the Criminal Responsibility of Individuals with Multiple Personality Disorder: Legal cases, Legal theory, 25.1 The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 391,393 (1997).
  • Elyn R. Saks, Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Responsibility, 10 C. CAL. Interdisc. L.J. 185,195 (2001).
  • Felicia G. Rubenstein, Committing Crimes While Experiencing a True Dissociative State: The Multiple Personality Defence and Appropriate Criminal Responsibility, 38 WAYNE L. REV. 353 (1991).
  • K.M. Sharma, Defence of Insanity in Indian Criminal Law, 7 Journal of the Indian Law Institute. 325-385 (1965)
  1. Elyn Saks & Stephen Behnke, Jekyll on trial: multiple personality disorder and criminal law 9 (NYU Press 2000
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Suresh B Math et al, Insanity Defense: Past, Present, and Future, 37(4) Indian J Psychol Med.381,381-387(2015).
  5. Kevin Dawkins, Dissociative Identity Disorder: Persons, Personalities and Criminal Responsibility, 3 N.Z. L. REV. 557, 562 (1998).
  6. Stephen H. Behnke, Assessing the Criminal Responsibility of Individuals with Multiple Personality Disorder: Legal cases, Legal theory, 25.1 The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 391,393 (1997).
  7. Supra note 5, at 562.
  8. Ibid
  9. Supra note 6, at 393.
  10. State v. Grimsley,444 U.S. 57,60 (1986).
  11. Supra note 5, at 563.
  12. Ibid
  13. Id. at 564.
  14. Ibid
  15. Id. at 565.
  16. Elyn R. Saks, Multiple Personality Disorder and Criminal Responsibility, 10 C. CAL. Interdisc. L.J. 185,195 (2001).
  17. State v. Moore 113 N.J. 239 (1988).
  18. United States v. Denny-Shaffer, 2 F.3d 999 (1993).
  19. Supra note 6, at 393.
  20. Id. at 394.
  21. Supra note 16, at 185.
  22. Supra note 4, at 381-387.
  23. Ibid
  24. Ibid
  25. Supra note 6, at 399.
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Pallavi Agarwal - LLB-JGLS - Law of Crimes
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: MA33469836212-30-0321

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