Automatism In Criminal Law

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When can a person raise the defence of Insane Automatism in the Criminal Law of the UK and the US? Insanity (insane automatism) can be the result of loss of physical control or loss of mental control over one’s actions. In a number of cases a plea of automatism has been rejected by the court and construed as one of insanity. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish insanity (or insane automatism) from simple automatism.
The defence of insanity is unusual in a number of ways. First, if successfully raised it will not result in an unqualified acquittal, but rather a special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Upon such verdict, the court has a wide-ranging dispositive discretion which includes
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M’Naghten was found not guilty by reason of insanity on the grounds that he was suffering an insane delusion that the prime minister and his constituents were conspiring against him at the time of his act. So incensed were the public at M’Naghten’s acquittal that the House of Lords asked a panel of judges to establish rules governing the defence of insanity. These rules are known as the M’Naghten rules. On the precise issue in the case their Lordships concluded that an insane delusion would act as an defence only if, assuming the delusion was true, it would have entitled the defendant to do as he did.
The ruling test for a disease of the mind is that of Devlin J in the case of Kemp(1957). The defendant attacked his wife with a hammer, causing her grievous bodily harm. The medical evidence showed that defendant suffered from arterial-sclerosis, a condition which restricts the flow of blood to the brain, and this caused a temporary lapse of consciousness. Defendant sought to raise the defence of automatism. Devlin J rejected this defence, ruling that it was one of
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Clark, a young man with untreated schizophrenia, was delusional and thought that aliens had invaded Flagstaff. Like about half of those with schizophrenia, Clark’s brain disease prevented him from understanding that he was ill.
At trial, Clark's family testified that he had been exhibiting symptoms of severe paranoia for years before the shooting, and that they had been unable to access long-term treatment for him, despite many attempts.
Clark was sent to prison on October 3, 2003, for a minimum of 25 years. Once in prison, Clark refused his psychiatric medications. In February 2005, the Court of Appeals upheld Clark's conviction. His attorney then requested the Arizona Supreme Court hear the case in an attempt to get Clark out of prison and into the state mental hospital.
The Devlin test is not a convincing one. Consider for example, the medical condition of diabetes. Diabetes can produce defects of reason involving loss of conscious awareness in two separate ways. The acts of violence committed while sleep walking, while suffering an epileptic seizure and while suffering clinical depression have all been designated the result of conditions of insanity rather than of simple
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