By Reason of Insanity: Should Defendants with Traumatic Brain Injuries Be Held Accountable for Their Actions Carolynn Sargent
“Six weeks after getting his driver’s license, Christopher Tiegreen was in a car collision near his home in Gainesville, Ga. Tiegreen’s Isuzu Trooper flipped several times, causing severe head injuries. A month later, Tiegreen emerged from a coma a different person. The impact of the crash caused damage to the frontal lobe of his brain and sheared his brain stem. During his recovery and rehabilitation, the usually gentle Tiegreen became violent toward his mother, as well as with other family members and rehab staff. On Sept. 11, 2009, Tiegreen walked out of a duplex apartment where he was supposed to be under 24-hour supervision. In a yard nearby he attacked a young woman holding her 20-month-old son. He was charged with aggravated assault, criminal attempt to commit a felony, false imprisonment, battery, sexual battery and cruelty to a child in the third degree.” (Davis, 2012). Is Christopher Tiegreen a different person now, with a severely impaired mental capacity, because of his traumatic brain injury, or is he just an angry, violent person who has simply committed his first crime? More succinctly; do Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) cause violent behavior in previously “normal” people, or is the TBI personality change simply a smoke screen being used to defend people with dangerous personality traits who happen to have a brain injury? To begin with, a definition of Traumatic Brain Injury, especially as opposed to a head injury, as most people do confuse the two. The Mayo Clinic defines Traumatic Brain Injury as “Traumatic brain injury occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction. (The Mayo Clinic, 2012). Traumatic brain injury usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. An object penetrating the skull, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, also can cause traumatic brain injury. “(The Mayo Clinic, 2012). A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is not a “head injury”, it is not a concussion nor an injury to the skull or spine; it is exclusively an injury the brain (and/or brain stem). With the definition clear, we see that the statistics regarding TBIs are shocking; Dr. William Winslade provides the following information from 2003, “Traumatic brain injury for decades has been, and continues to be, a major public health problem in the United States. Car crashes, gunshot wounds, falls and sports injuries account for two million brain injuries a year, nearly 400,000 hospital admissions, and at least 60,000 deaths. Approximately 90,000 people suffer a severe brain injury and survive but require extended, expensive rehabilitation. Some 2,000 people a year lapse into permanent unconsciousness lasting for months or years before they die.” (Winslade, 2003). “Some survivors of traumatic brain injury fully recover, but many others experience a multitude of cognitive, emotional and behavioral disabilities.” (Winslade, 2003). As a survivor of a traumatic Brain Injury, the patient faces a myriad of recovery issues, not simply medical issues such as headaches, lethargy, pain in the distal limbs, speech issues, attention deficit and memory loss may affect cognitive functioning. Per Dr. William Winslade, an expert on Traumatic Brain Injuries; the changes in an individual with a TBI are profound and noticeable “Personality changes are common. Those who were calm and controlled may become quick-tempered and impulsive. In some people anger erupts into aggressive attacks on others. Many with severe brain injuries lack the ability to control their thoughts, emotions, impulses and their conduct. They may become uninhibited, promiscuous, anxious, paranoid or violent.” (Winslade, 2003). It is precisely these personality changes that makes Traumatic Brain Injuries so different from “head injuries” such as concussions,...