I Can’t Remember, Your Honour: Memory Loss and Its Effect on Criminal Case

CrimesThe critically acclaimed movie Primal Fear tells the story of Martin Vail, a hotshot defence lawyer who tries to defend an obviously guilty client. In the movie, altar boy Aaron Stampler was accused of murdering a beloved priest, but does not remember committing the crime. Stampler insists that he has no memory of the incident because he blacked out.

Timpano Legal notes that when it comes to criminal case, memory loss or amnesia is accepted with doubt and cynicism. When defendants claim that they don’t remember committing a crime, complicated legal issues arise and create confusion for both the defence and the prosecution. It may be harder to explain what really happened and it may be difficult to prove the intent necessary to commit the offence.

Amnesia and Automatism

Scientists note that a type of psychological condition called dissociative amnesia can occur after a traumatic event. This can occur even when there is no brain injury sustained. According to Better Health Channel, this type of amnesia happens when a person cannot remember the details of a stressful event, but realises that they are experiencing memory loss. This can last for a few days to one or more years.

Amnesia may also indicate a sense of automatism, which are the non-intentional, unconscious and uncontrollable behaviours. In the country, automatism is divided into “sane” and “insane”. For both types, it is assumed that the aspect of the crime is at stake. Automatism is rarely used as a defence, which denies that the defendant was responsible for their actions.

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Scepticism with Memory Loss

The sad thing is, courts view amnesia with scepticism, which can be a barrier to using it as a criminal defence. The mainstream community does not understand it that much, considering it as a convenient way to get out of a criminal charge.

In some cases, it may be advisable to get a report from the medical practitioner to prove the validity of the claim. It is with hope that this could affect charges and the outcome of the case. It is best, however, to get help from a criminal or defence lawyer.