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Automatism Defense

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What is the Automatism Defense?

The term automatism refers to an action performed without conscious control. In a criminal trial, this can be used as an affirmative defense. By showing that the defendant acted involuntarily and without conscious awareness, criminal charges may be reduced or eliminated. The defense centers on the idea that the criminal action was caused by factors beyond the defendant’s control, including psychological and environmental factors.

Examples include performing an act while:

  • sleep walking
  • in an epileptic or post epileptic state
  • under a clouded state of consciousness because of a brain disease
  • involuntarily intoxicated

These are just a number of examples. However, because automatism is so similar to the insanity defense, some courts consider automatism to be a species of the insanity defense, while other courts have recognized automatism as a separate affirmative defense.

When is the Automatism Defense Justified?

The automatism defense is justified when the state of unconsciousness was not self-induced or was unavoidable. The state of unconsciousness must be completely uncontrollable and unpredictable for the automatism defense to be justified.

Alternatively, this defense is not justified when the state of unconsciousness was self-induced, avoidable, or foreseen. The defense is not justified if the state of unconsciousness resulted from voluntary actions, such as drugs and/or alcohol.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Claim the Automatism Defense?

A criminal defense lawyer will know the laws in your state and exactly when the automatism defense is applicable. A criminal defense attorney can help mount a defense against criminal charges and develop your claim of automatism.

Photo of page author Peter Holl

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-25-2013 05:22 PM PDT

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