Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Multiple Personalities: Crime and Defense

A More Fundamental Issue

Judge Thomas Honzel, in Helena, Montana, threw out statements made by homicide suspect Tessa Haley, 58, on the basis that she had asked for an attorney before her "alter" personality confessed to the murder. The implication of this decision is that the police must be sufficiently versed in the phenomenon of multiple personalities to know when one is speaking without having been fully warned of his or her rights.

Here's what happened: On September 2, 2002, someone named Martha called Helena police to say she had just stabbed a woman. When they arrived at the location, they found Tessa Haley in bloody clothing. Yet she denied any knowledge of the call or of Martha.

At the same time, the hospital confirmed they were treating a woman who had been stabbed and who identified Haley as her attacker. She was Haley's roommate.

The police advised Haley of her Miranda rights and with her consent, searched her home. Then she requested a lawyer. As they waited in her kitchen, she growled, identified herself as Martha, and upon being asked if she knew the victim, said, "I stabbed her."

She was taken to the hospital, where she continued to confess her intent to kill the victim. Afterward, her lawyer insisted that once she had asked for an attorney, all statements made thereafter should be inadmissible in court.

The other side countered that they had stopped questioning her but she had talked voluntarily. Her incriminating statements had not been the result of an interrogation, especially those made at the hospital. However, since the officers had talked with her as both Tessa and Martha, the judge decided they should have understood that they were treating her as two different peopleeach of whom had rights.

Given all the confusion surrounding the diagnosis even among experts, how might a police officer know the difference? And what if the suspect's alter is a 2-year-old? Or a lobster? Or God? No arresting officer could possibly recognize every personality, let alone Mirandize them all. Many police officers are not even trained in psychology. At best, the judge made a na´ve decision. At worst, he set a dangerous precedent.

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