Automatism: Getting Away

Can you possibly expect to get off by claiming you committed a crime because you were actually unable to stop yourself? On very rare occasions a plea is entered into a court of law in a criminal proceeding that essentially makes the case that the perpetrator of the crime really and truly had absolutely no control over their actions. This legal term for this defense is automatism and it basically means that the person could not control their actions because they were behaving with automatic responses not completely dissimilar to one of those Robosapiens toy robot creatures. This may sound insane, and indeed there are two types of automatism separated into ridiculously appropriate categories.


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Insane automatism is often utilized when the attorney is going for a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. In order to make this so, however, the burden of proof must shift to the defendant. In other words, insane automatism implies that there is an organic cause behind the inability of the person to stop himself from committing a criminal act. However, usage of the insane automatism defense does not necessarily have to imply an insanity defense. When using the insane automatism approach in the hope of achieving that end, the organic cause of the inability to counteract the automatic actions reside in something like a brain tumor or a mental disorder. The most common organic excuse utilized in a plea involving insane automatism is actually epilepsy, which does not normally meet the standard required for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Non-insane automatism may at first glance seem to include an epileptic state, but legally it usually falls under the insane category. So what makes up an action that allows for a plea involving automatism of the non-insane variety? Sleepwalking for one thing. In fact, most cases in non-insane automatism has been used revolve around sleeping disorders of one kind of or another.

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These are causes of automatic behavior that aren’t recognized and can’t be controlled, but unlike epilepsy they may occur with far less regularity and frequency. Indeed, sleepwalking is not usually considered an organic disease and for that reason the justification that a person was considered to be asleep while in the process of committing a crime are quite rare. Still, it is not entirely without precedent, though a good attorney would almost certainly attempt to get some kind of medical authentification of an organic reason behind the automatic behavior.

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