It is not at all unusual for a person charged with a criminal offence, including murder, to claim that they have no memory of committing the act and, therefore, they must have been, for example, sleepwalking.
There have been many successful acquittals over the years on the basis of such a defence.
Sukhdip Randhawa of Kangs Solicitors outlines the nature of this defence.
Automatism | Guilty Mind | Kangs Criminal Law Advisory Team
Automatism can be used as a defence to show that a defendant lacked the requisite mental state for the commission of a crime and is defined as:
‘An involuntary act such as sleepwalking that is performed in a state of unconsciousness. The subject does not act voluntarily and is not fully aware of his or her actions while in a state of automatism.’
Automatism may be:
- Internal (insane) Automatism – a disease of the mind and anybody found guilty of committing a crime in such circumstances is likely to be made subject to an indefinite hospital order.
- External (simple) Automatism – requires an external cause, such as an injury to the head or, more usually, alcohol consumption.
Considerations | Kangs Criminal Law Advisory Solicitors
- There is established case law confirming that self-induced intoxication is unlikely to avail a defence (Finegan v Haywood).
- In the exercise of both of the defences, the production of medical evidence will almost certainly be required.
When considering a defence based on insane automatism, regard will be given to “the M’Naghten Rules” which provide that:
‘To establish an offence on the grounds of insanity, it must clearly be proved that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.’
- In respect of simple automatism, a person who totally lacked control of his or her body at the time of the offence and that lack of control was not caused by his or her own prior fault, will have such a defence.
- The defence of automatism is available to all crimes and, once raised by way of defence, the Prosecution must disprove it. Failure to do so will result in the acquittal of the defendant.
How Can We Assist? | Kangs Criminal Defence Solicitors
Automatism is an extremely complex and extensive area of law frequently giving rise to sensitive issues.
For further information please do not hesitate to contact our team through any of the following: