Suppose a guy brutally murders a family, but in the ensuing fight with the police he is given complete amnesia. His condition seems permanent, and he doesn't remember who he is, what he has done, or anything.

What should be done with him? Release him? Punish him anyway? Try to make him remember? Life imprisonment?

Does amnesia make him a new, innocent person?
Amnesia doesn't change who a person is
And we will weave in and out of sanity unnoticed
Swirling in blissfully restless visions of all our bleary progress
Glowing in radiant madness
Does amnesia make him a new, innocent person?

No. He still needs to be held accountable for what he's done - danger to society, etc. etc. It would be very irresponsible to release someone who has the potential to murder again (as many who have murdered before tend to have).
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amnesia also doesn't change what a person did the day before.

perhaps he'll not remember his crime, but he won't be able to remember his alibi either...

suppose the incident was caught on video? Amnesia doesn't change what's on the tape.

the fact is, amnesia is not caused by injury... it's a psychological disorder that is often brought on by extreme stress and/or extreme denial. There is usually a violent climax to the stressful events that cause amnesia, and so many people say it just happens when you get hit in the head.
Last edited by frigginjerk at Mar 8, 2008,
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Suppose a guy brutally murders a family

Does amnesia make him a new, innocent person?

Innocent in the sense that he cannot refer to the murder and allow it to influence his thought; guilty in the sense that he has murdered, and maybe could again.

A possible parallel is mental patients. They don't think that they're insane, but everyone else does. Yet we still lock them away in mental institutions.
Indeed, but try put yourself in his shoes.

You wake up, only to be told that you have committed a crime you cannot remember and cannot imagine having committed. They might want to kill you or throw you in jail. Is that morally correct?

One could argue that memories and past experiences are what shapes a person, so this man would be effectively instantly reformed.
If a person commits murder and gets knocked into a coma somehow, do they go to a prison hospital or secure ward?
Put him in an asylum until he remembers - because memories sometimes come back - and then put him in jail once he remembers destroying his family.

It's an interesting question, because he may feel like a different person, but a lack of memory really doesn't change his personality.

I know many will shout at me, but look at the Bourne films. Yes, they're a work of fiction, but in the first film, when he's discovering his amnesia, you see him do certain things through instinct and what was ingrained into his mind before - tie knots, kill people, escape situations... - so the personality is restored.
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Institutionalised for definite.

If someone murders a family, or anyone for that matter, there has to be a trigger. If the murderer forgets it happening, there's no way to determine the trigger. By not identifying this and releasing him/her, you're potentially putting other people in danger.