Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense

The Problem in Perspective

Jekyll on Trial
Jekyll on Trial
In Jekyll on Trial, Elyn Saks discusses the dilemma regarding MPD that is before the courts. She describes several cases, notably that of Billy Milligan. He was accused of a series of robberies and rapes that had occurred at Ohio State University. By the time he faced a trial, 10 of his 23 personalities had surfaced. One had a British accent and could write in fluent Arabic. One was 16, another 8. One was a protector, another a lesbian. The prosecution and defense conferred on this case and agreed to acquit Milligan by reason of insanity.

Saks also cites the situation of Juanita Maxwell, who quite suddenly bludgeoned an elderly woman to death with a lamp, but had no memory of the crime. She went to trial, and her violent alter came out. The judge acquitted her.

Using the metaphor that Dr. Jekyll cannot be held responsible for what Mr. Hyde does, Saks describes what the legal system must ponder. If Jekyll willingly drank a potion that he knew would give birth to Hyde and all his atrocities, then Jekyll should be held accountable. But if Hyde erupts without Jekyll being able to control him or even being aware of him, then Jekyll cannot be held responsible. He should be treated, not punished. Its up to the courts to pay close attention so they can make the appropriate distinction, while taking care not to confuse maligners with genuine pathology.

She points to philosophy as a way to try to understand how to view such people in terms of assigning criminal responsibility:

  1. the alters are distinct people
  2. the alters are personlike centers of consciousness
  3. the alters are parts of a single but fragmented person

No one yet knows which of these conceptualizations is most accurate, and in each case, the law would have to take a different approach. In the first and second instance, punishment for a guilty alter would involve also punishing an innocent personthe core person who did not do the deed, as well as any other persons in the body who would go along to prison (or be executed). In the third instance, the person would be too fragmented to be fully aware of the crime, unless all the alters colluded together to do it.

In the end, Saks believes more study must be done to resolve these issues.

The problem is that MPD/DID will not go away. Indeed, both as a potentially real and malingered phenomenon, it is likely to show up increasingly more oftenespecially as more people are successfully acquitted because of it.

When evidence is overwhelmingly against a defendant, one of the only ways an attorney has to mitigate the sentence is an insanity defense. MPD has been an effective one in that blame can be placed away from the individual at trial.

However, despite the arguments from Saks, Lewis, and other experts, the MPD defense has real problems:

  • There is still debate over the existence of such a disorder
  • True cases of the disorder on which most psychiatric professionals would agree are rare
  • Even if an alter did the crime, its difficult to know that entitys state of mind at the time of the offense, in terms of knowing right from wrong

Critics hold that while a few patients may be true multiples, the vast majority of cases are either misdiagnosed, malingered, or consciously or unconsciously created by the clinician who makes the diagnosis.

Lets look at a case of outright acquittal in detail, as reported in The Morning Call newspaper.

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