Skepticism on the Disorder in the Court

Skepticism on the Disorder in the Court - Court ALOOKAHEAD*...

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 Back to Original Article Skepticism on the Disorder in the  Court A LOOK AHEAD * Although insanity is considered a viable  criminal defense, defendants who claim they are multiple  personalities face . . . March 09, 1998 | GREG KRIKORIAN  |  TIMES STAFF WRITER His crimes were repugnant and the evidence against Howard Davis Jr.  of Woodland Hills was so overwhelming that neither his attorney nor  his family ever disputed his involvement in sexual assaults on five  females, including a 10-year-old girl. But before and after the portly son of a retired cop was sentenced to  338 years in prison, those who stood by him still maintained he was  innocent. He may have been involved in the attacks, they said. But he didn't  commit them. Davis' case, which is being appealed, is one in a growing number of  criminal proceedings involving the diagnosis of split personality--a  disorder at the heart of several fascinating trials in recent years. And even in a city accustomed to bizarre courtroom dramas, this area  of criminal law is one in which debate seems to grow, not diminish,  with each new case. "The insanity defense says a defendant is insane if he didn't know the  nature or wrongfulness of his act," said USC law professor Elyn Saks,  who has been retained as an expert witness by Davis' counsel. "But  who is 'he' if it is a multiple personality? Is it the alter in control at the  time of the act? Is it the host personality? Is it any and every alter? "Many courts fail to step up to the plate and tell experts and juries 
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how to consider this question," said Saks, author of a book on criminal  law and split personality, a diagnosis known as dissociative identity  disorder. Saks and some others argue that the unique nature of the disorder  makes it unfair to handle such defendants like those with other  mental illnesses. Changes in the law are needed, they say, to  overcome the impossibly difficult burden of proving innocence by  reason of insanity in these cases. Others disagree. "The law should apply the standard tests we already have for criminal  responsibility," said Stephen H. Behnke, a lawyer and psychologist in  the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who  collaborated on the book with Saks.
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