Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Request for New Trial and Opportunity to Raise Insanity Defense Based on Newly Discovered Evidence of Dissociative Identity Disorder Refused

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Request for New Trial and Opportunity to Raise Insanity Defense Based on Newly Discovered Evidence of Dissociative Identity Disorder Refused

Article excerpt

The use of diagnoses of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) tends to be particularly controversial in the legal system. Concerns have been raised about the validity of this diagnosis, its identification, its potential for manipulation, and its application in legal proceedings.

A criminal defendant in Virginia who did not raise an insanity defense had been found guilty of the second-degree murder of her husband. Following her conviction, she was diagnosed for the first time as having had a DID at the time of the crime. The defendant argued that this diagnosis could provide the basis for a finding of legal insanity under the "irresistible impulse" prong of the Virginia insanity defense and she was entitled to a new trial where she could attempt to establish this defense.

The Virginia Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, refused the defendant's request. After a detailed review of the case, the court ruled that (1) the defendant and her counsel could have secured evidence before trial that she suffered from DID through the exercise of reasonable due diligence and (2) the DID diagnosis would not have produced a different result upon retrial. The court added that, in effect, the defendant was asking the court to establish that a different post-trial diagnosis of a preexisting mental illness necessitated a new trial, but that this is something that the law does not favor. …

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