Dissociative identity disorder and criminal liability, By- Arvind Panda

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously referred to as Multiple personality disorder, is categorised as a condition when 2 or more different personalities are implicit within the same person. Each personality is complete, with its own memories, conduct, and preferences; these may be in marked disparity to the single premorbid personality. In its most well well-known form, only one personality reveals itself at a particular time, unaware of the other alters. Dissociation is known to be an extreme outcome of severe depression or trauma. People who have been subject to frequent physical and sexual violence are more prone to developing such symptoms. There have been a number of cases reported across the globe, including the Indian subcontinent.

Most often, courts around the world base the insanity defense upon the following premise: if the person was aware of the commission of the offence, he shall be guilty. Section 84 of the IPC identifies an insane person as one ‘incapable of knowing’ the nature or consequences of his act. Therefore if it is proven that the accused was aware of the act, it is presumed that he was in control of the act too. This rule clearly seems inconsistent with DID, for the host personality may not always be in control of the altar’s act, in spite of being aware. Controlling one’s actions when one is in control of one’s body is different from controlling one’s actions when one is not. It would clearly be unjust to punish the person if the host personality was not in control of the acts of the alter, or if it could not prevent the act without putting itself in reasonable danger.

Moreover, a person cannot be considered entirely guilty of committing the offence if he himself does not commit it, in spite of being reasonably capable of preventing it from happening. Similarly, in the case of DID, even if the host personality was in reasonable control of the happening of the act, punishing it for the acts of the alter would still mean punishing an innocent.

Criminal responsibility if alters are person-like centers of consciousness

Alters being person-like centers of consciousness means that the alters may not be entirely different persons, but are still distinct entities. Each alter enjoys his own separate experiences and considers his experiences to be only his, and nobody else’s. Law takes into account wrongful acts committed by people alone, and not disembodied entities. However, this would again mean punishing the guilty at the cost of the innocent. As far as pure guilt or innocence is concerned, a body must not be considered to make a difference.

State v. Green (1998)

In State v Green a test was suggested which stated that if any part of the person’s mind knew that the act was wrong, he should not be allowed to take the defence of insanity. Mere knowledge is not sufficient for rendering a person guilty. The question of whether the person could reasonably prevent the act or not also needs to be taken into account. For instance, a person acting under posthypnotic suggestion is well aware that his conduct is wrongful. However, it would be unjust to make him liable, for split-off parts of the person’s personality are acting.

Dissociative disorders are primarily caused on account of severe stress or trauma. Most of the DID patients around the world were proven to be victims of sexual or physical abuse. In 2005, a girl who was presented before the Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, showed symptoms of DID. At certain intervals, she began referring to herself as Mr S. She dressed like a male, did not seem to recognize her parents, cousins, relatives, etc, and was unable to recount her personal information. Upon research, it was discovered that she had been living amid a strained parental relationship. This had arisen on account of her mother not bearing a boy. The girl lived in constant stress, and eventually began acquiring alter states recurrently after a dissociative convulsion, and was unable to recall important personal information.

With the rise in the cases of DID across the globe, certain changes need to be made within the laws. It is incumbent that the courts follow the proposed standards to prevent the unjust conviction of the innocent host. However, it is also important to note that incorporating DID within the laws would be far from easy. While the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 does try to improve healthcare facilities and encourage therapy, it still fails to include DID. The dissociative disorder requires long term treatment by a mental health expert who tries to join two different personalities while healing the core issue. It may also include cognitive and creative therapies.


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