Automatism is an action that is performed without the doer’s intention or awareness. If an individual faces criminal charges based on such an action, automatism may be used as a defense for clearing or lessening the charges.

An action that is done automatically, in this sense, removes the idea of the person having the intent to commit the crime. Without that intent, it is likely their charges will be reduced.

What are Some Examples of Automatism?

Actions done while:

  • Sleepwalking;
  • Mentally ill or disordered (as in when a person becomes dissociated, or hypoglycemic);
  • Experiencing epileptic seizure or other physical disorder causing involuntary physical movements; and/or
  • Involuntary intoxicated (e.g. drugged). 

The major issue is whether the doer of the action had control over that action, and was capable of forming criminal intent. For instance, a person who is voluntarily intoxicated cannot claim automatism as a defense, because they had control over becoming intoxicated, which led to their criminal action.

Whereas, someone who was involuntarily intoxicated, not by choice, did not create the situation which led to the criminal act. A person who becomes hypoglycemic may not be considered to have control of their actions, but a diabetic who is aware of the possibility of their illness potentially causing them to lose control, will more likely be held to have had intent.

But a driver who falls asleep will likely be held responsible for any actions occurring while driving asleep. A driver they should have recognized the need to pull over and not operate a car while impaired.

Awareness is the key to discovering whether an individual had control over their actions. If an individual has knowledge of the condition leading to their criminal action, then they will likely be held responsible. But they must truly have no consciousness of what they were doing when they committed the crime as they were unable to form the necessary intent.

Do You Need a Lawyer If You Think You Have a Defense of Automatism?

If proven correctly, automatism can change the outcome of your case. However, applying it as a defense depends on the crime you’ve been charged. It’s important that a defense of automatism is carefully applied, and the best chance for a successful defense is if you contact a local criminal lawyer.