Thread: Incarceration and memory loss

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  1. #1

    Incarceration and memory loss

    So it was quite a while since I last made thread in OT, so I thought I should make a new one. I have this hypothetical situation for you here:

    Say person X committed a crime, murdered someone or whatever. He doesn't get caught for it, and sometime later suffers a head trauma, and through that retrograde amnesia (he forgets everything about his previous life, who he is and all that stuff). Say 10-15 years passes and he still hasn't regained any of his old memories. He's a completely different person and living a completely different life with new people in it, having no knowledge of being a murderer.


    However, new evidence pops up (sup Cold Case?) and dem cops can pin the crime on X. Does X deserve to be incarcerated for that crime he did way back and doesn't even know he committed, also considering he is pretty much a completely different person from back then?

    Please motivate in replies too so that we might get a discussion going (inb4 massive circlejerk).
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  2. #2
    How should we know. If you are really curious you should be asking on some legal advice forum.

    That's one thing I've learnt on these forums. Never discuss anything that deals with legal implications.
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  3. #3
    It's a pointless question because he should have never gone to jail in the first place, even if he did commit the murder. He should have been rehabilitated instead.

  4. #4
    I'm asking of your opinion, not what the law says. It is far too unlikely to ever happen IRL for me to care about what the law actually says about it.
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  5. #5
    Even still, why? Just out of curiosity? I personally find little merit in discussing hypothetical scenarios which are very unlikely.
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  6. #6
    Yes, out of curiosity. Answering the question can not only show values people hold, but also what people consider a person. I find it interesting.
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  7. #7
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    I think the appropriate response would be to have the man have mandatory weekly sessions with a psychologist or someone who can verify after x sessions that this person is safe and stable enough for society.

    Punishment doesn't work as anything other than a deterrent, and a weak one at that. If it's been 20 years, the family of the victim is hardly craving vengeance anymore. It would be low to give it to them anyways.

  8. #8
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    This is more so a moral issue than a legal issue, and therefore I think discussion in this forum holds some merit.

    It's a pointless question because he should have never gone to jail in the first place, even if he did commit the murder. He should have been rehabilitated instead.
    And just this response warrants its own thread.
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  9. #9
    You need to narrow down the variables quite a bit for there to be any real discussion on this. Pick a specific crime, because that does play a role. If the crime wasn't caused by environmental factors, forgetting about it won't reduce the likeliness of it reoccurring.

    Some of the key factors will be:
    -Is he still a threat?
    -Did something trigger the crime that could reoccur?
    -Is he gradually regaining memory, or does he remember fragments of his old life?

    The main problem is that almost all of this would be his words to a psychologist, there's no way to really tell if he's regaining memories and lies about it. He could be haunted by nightmares of the crime, but may not realize that those memories are real. I think a more interesting question is whether or not you should tell him that he committed a crime, however long ago, if an accident erased his memory. Instead of focusing on legal ramifications, I'd recommend that this debate move more in the direction of whether or not he bears any personal responsibility for past actions.

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    This is a movie spoiler.


  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Apostate View Post
    I think the appropriate response would be to have the man have mandatory weekly sessions with a psychologist or someone who can verify after x sessions that this person is safe and stable enough for society.
    People suffering from retrograde amnesia tend to end up in medical care one way or another. Complete memory wipes are most often caused by traumatic brain injury, and that will most often have you end up in a hospital. Otherwise it's just a matter of time before you get taken care of, as a person who has forgotten pretty much everything about society and who he is won't really function all that well.

    Quote Originally Posted by willdaBEAST View Post
    You need to narrow down the variables quite a bit for there to be any real discussion on this. Pick a specific crime, because that does play a role. If the crime wasn't caused by environmental factors, forgetting about it won't reduce the likeliness of it reoccurring.

    Some of the key factors will be:
    -Is he still a threat?
    -Did something trigger the crime that could reoccur?
    -Is he gradually regaining memory, or does he remember fragments of his old life?

    The main problem is that almost all of this would be his words to a psychologist, there's no way to really tell if he's regaining memories and lies about it. He could be haunted by nightmares of the crime, but may not realize that those memories are real. I think a more interesting question is whether or not you should tell him that he committed a crime, however long ago, if an accident erased his memory. Instead of focusing on legal ramifications, I'd recommend that this debate move more in the direction of whether or not he bears any personal responsibility for past actions.
    Okay, let's narrow it down to murder. I think I made it quite clear in the OP that he doesn't remember anything "10-15 years passes and he still hasn't regained any of his old memories.", "crime he did way back and doesn't even know he committed". The only way he would still be a threat or having a recurring trigger would be if it was in his genes, would it not? Seeing as he is by all means a completely different person, the only kind of threat he would pose would be something he has developed during the last 10-15 years.

    I meant for this thread to be a place where people discuss their opinions on whether he should be held responsible for the crime in the past. I should perhaps not have worded it as specific as I did with incarceration though. My bad. But yeah, with "should he be incarcerated for his past crime?", I basically meant "Do you think he should be held responsible for his past crime?"
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  12. #12
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    This would seem to very much depend on the philosophy of a continuous or persistent self, and how we define that. When we refer to 'a person', what do we mean? If we take the trope in which two people switch bodies (however that would be done.. let's just say they reprogram each other's brain to be the opposite, ignoring differences in bodies that would affect this). You have something like Face-Off. Who do you arrest? Which person is which? Does it make any sense to maintain the illusion of a persistent self? To me, for all conceivable purposes, the person who committed the crime is now dead and long-gone. The person who may share the same body, DNA, and history as that person may live, but they aren't the same. It seems the important thing to consider is if there is still, within the person, the realizable and actual potential to commit that crime. In other words, in similar circumstances, would that person commit that crime? If so, that person likely needs to be taken in for rehabilitation or for the safety of the public. Even if his 'self' was continued enough that he was still very similar to his previous and crime-comitting self, like a non-damaged person might be, there are still some things to consider.

    Now, I don't believe if it like you say here: "The only way he would still be a threat or having a recurring trigger would be if it was in his genes, would it not?" When we think of amnesia, we usually think they lose all their memories, but are memories what entirely make a person? Are genes? When a person loses their memories, sometimes they still have the ability to speak, they still 'know' things like eating, using certain things, etc. This would imply that memories can be in more than just one place in the brain and may take on more than one form. Our memories are intricately entwined into our thinking. Even if the brain was entirely reset, our memories can also be held in more than just the brain. Certain patterns become engrained into all our nerves, such as our different organs and body parts (which is why people might notice a change in preference or behavior when they receive a donated body part).

    One of the problems is the idea of kharma, or a balance, in retributive justice. Each wrong must be balance by an equal wrong on the wrong-doer. Similarly, each right must be balanced by a right. When someone commits a crime, they are given a punishment. When someone does you a favor, you are in their debt, and 'owe them one'. This idea had some appeal to it, but further understanding of the world and our preferences & psychological tendencies seems to make this idea incompatible with reality. If we're interested in lessening harm in the future, it seems that retributive justice inhibits this goal, rather than helping it. Understanding of the 'self' and the 'soul' has put some insurmountable problems on the dualist nature of the mind. Retribution isn't as mentally healthy as forgiveness and doesn't help people cope with loss or misfortune. It seeks to find a blameworthy & responsible party, but a more deterministic view (not even wholly deterministic) will show that many people and their actions tend to be the product of their environment moreso than the product of actual choice. This really dissolves the idea of blame and makes retribution impossible, unless you seek to be angry at existence itself (which some do).

    I'm of the mind that amnesia is never as it is portrayed in movies/stories, though, so this whole thing is kind of too far removed from reality. A look into what amnesia actually is like and you will find that it is serious brain damage that has chronic problems for the rest of your life so long as it isn't treated, making daily life difficult and certain activities almost impossible. Such a condition would most likely qualify as some amount of insanity or mental illness in a legal scenario, so he would likely be submitted for analysis and treatment. From there, he should be helped until he becomes fit to enter back into society, ideally.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Malefication View Post
    The only way he would still be a threat or having a recurring trigger would be if it was in his genes, would it not? Seeing as he is by all means a completely different person, the only kind of threat he would pose would be something he has developed during the last 10-15 years.
    I don't think a trigger would necessarily have to be genetic, I'm fairly positive environmental pressures can affect your brain chemistry and that's not something you'd lose with a memory wipe. You're also overly focused on one side of memory; if his entire personality is erased without any trace, can he still perform basic functions, read, or speak? I assume you'd want that to be the case, but what's the functional difference between that and the perpetrator being in a vegetative coma for 15 years? The primary difference is that one person would be bedridden and the other would be free to move about society, which narrows everything down to "is he still dangerous?" I think that his moral responsibility is a separate issue than whether or not he should be integrated into society.

  14. #14
    I have no idea how amnesia is portrayed in movies/stories, I have hardly watched any films or read any books where amnesia is a main theme. I do however know that it is not impossible to suffer from retrograde amnesia and have your intelligence, perceptive ability, linguistics and other functions left intact. Most of the time, patients recover at least parts of their lost memories, and they can still form short-term memories (unlike those suffering from anterograde amnesia). I do admit that this situation is quite far from reality, but it isn't due to the amnesia, rather the unlikely combination of murder and complete retrograde amnesia.

    I concede to both of you, it isn't all memory or genes. That wasn't really well thought out. Muscle memory, linguistics and all that stuff, yes. When I wrote that he was living a completely different life, I thought it would imply that he was functioning. Feel free to ask me to specify anything else you think is unclear. With that, I also thought it would imply that he had already been integrated into society.

    For further purposes, with "all his memories", I only mean the memories of his life and experiences (including norms, indoctrination etc.). His ability to think, speak, ride bikes and tie his shoes are retained.

    Also thanks for actually answering my question in the OP, Beany.
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  15. #15
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    Beany basically said what I wanted to say. I agree with him

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