Letter From The President

Dissociation and the Courts

While I would not characterize myself as a forensic psychologist, I find myself testifying several times a year as an expert witness. I work almost exclusively with Public Defenders (PD’s) because they are hard-pressed to find anyone who will work for the lower rate of pay they are saddled with, and I like to be on the defense side of the coin. I am usually contacted at the last moment, by PD’s who are trying to mount a “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea, on the fly. They have never heard of trauma-related dissociation or anything about dissociative identity disorder (DID). My tasks then become those of both assessment of the accused and education of the attorneys, so they have enough information to realistically formulate defense options.

ISSTD members have provided a wealth of information and advice about dissociation in forensic settings:  Brand, Frankel, Loewenstein (see firebug article), Dalenberg, Turkus, Steinberg, Barach, Ross, and Sachs. They, and many more, have written about forensic conditions, cautions, and strategies to assist defense proceedings. There is a broad literature about this topic and yet, in the courtroom arena, it’s as if dissociation either doesn’t exist or is preposterous. I was asked by a defense attorney once if I “am still practicing Voodoo Medicine?” I am sure it comes as no surprise for me to say that dissociative conditions, particularly DID, are also seen as feigned and fabricated to avoid being convicted of a crime. I am relatively sure that education about dissociation and DID on the prosecution side is wasted and unwanted effort, but I would like to see if we can provide more education for the defense attorneys… just one more project for ISSTD.

Peter Maves, President