Dr. Diana Williamson is a controversial figure with a controversial diagnosis. Once lauded for her work in AIDS research, she is now facing up to fourteen years in prison after she participated in a Medicare fraud scheme that distributed nearly 28,000 oxycodone pills and defrauded Medicaid of more than $300,000, reports the Wall Street Journal. What makes her story different from the ordinary “fall from grace” stereotype is her justification for her actions.
She blames two of her other eleven personalities.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a controversial diagnosis whose diagnostic criteria are met when at least two distinct personalities emerge. Often, the disorder results from coping with childhood abuse, as the patient creates an extra personality to handle the abuse, while the main personality retreats into the subconscious. The disorder is recognized by the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the authoritative manual of psychiatric conditions for American practitioners.
Dr. Williamson was first diagnosed with the disorder twenty-five years ago, before she graduated from college and medical school and after she was sexually abused by a neighborhood priest, reports the Journal. Today, she claims that she has no memory of the fraudulent prescriptions. The defense expert claims that two of her alternate personalities, Nala and Darkness, who appear simultaneously, were responsible for the conduct. These two personalities were created to deal with the childhood sexual abuse.
Despite the long-standing diagnosis, and an expert willing to testify, the defense did not plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Proving insanity would have required the defense to show that "at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." Their expert, while able to confirm her diagnosis, was unable to confirm that she met New York's legal definition of insanity.
Instead of risking a trial, Dr. Williamson pled guilty. Now, her defense team is asking the judge to show mercy when determining an appropriate sentence. They are hoping that Dr. Williamson can avoid prison time due to her dissociative identity disorder and her physical ailments, which include the use of a walker and "life-threatening allergic asthma and pulmonary hypertension."
According to the New York Post, Chief Judge Loretta Preska seemed skeptical of the psychological diagnosis. She did however postpone sentencing until October 19.
- Discuss Your Case With a New York Criminal Defense Attorney (FindLaw)
- Insanity Defense (FindLaw's LawBrain)
- Renato Seabra Trial for Murder, Mutilation; Will He Prove Insanity? (FindLaw's New York Criminal Law Blog)
- Dissociative Identity Disorder/Multiple Personality Disorder (WebMD)