In a criminal trial, a defense team will introduce evidence and theories on the turn of events. The concept is to sell a reasonable story to the jury and save the client from conviction. This approach known as case defense strategies have two classifications. They are defense against an innocent person, and defense for a guilty client. The most popular of these strategies are sleepwalking and amnesia. Juries derive the verdict from expressed emotions and elements of evidence. Hence, defense attorneys often appeal to the emotional aspect of the jury. This paper will analyze two popular criminal cases involving amnesia and sleepwalking.
Amnesia is a commonly used defense strategy to avail a diminished capacity plea. This defense will appeal to the jury to treat the defendant as an individual suffering from mental disorder and generate sympathy. The case for review is 391 F2d 460 Wilson v. United States.
The defendant, Robert Wilson and an accomplice robbed a bank. In order to get away from the scene, they carjacked Gerald Fells. However, they lost control of the vehicle and ran off the road. The defendant suffered skull fractures and was went into a coma. His accomplice died. Robert Wilson contended that he was unable to remember any information pertaining to the robbery.
The defendant’s ability to stand trial was scrutinized for diminished capacity. The defense team claimed that by not able to recollect the actual events that transpired due to the amnesia, Robert Wilson cannot achieve due process. Eventually after one year, the psychologists treating him decided that Robert Wilson was not under any diminished capacity and that his mental faculties were intact. The doctors concluded that the defendant might suffer from permanent amnesia from the day of the crime until he regained consciousness in a hospital. The other defense strategy that Robert Wilson’s attorneys tried out is a novel justification to self-defense. Their contention was that without the specific data available to their client anymore, he will be unable to defend himself in court successfully.
Outcome of the case
Amnesia defense strategies present themselves for violent crimes that usually come with the penalty of death. In most of the cases, the court will deny the motion to treat defendants as mentally diminished because of permanent, selective, or temporary amnesia. In this case, the Judge ruled that a guilty conviction was unfair for the defendant. He added that any such finding is invalid since the defendant did not have the ability to represent himself during his day in court. The Judge’s ruling hinged on the fact that the defendant was in fact in a coma. He did not plead to insanity and knew right from wrong. Moreover, the verdict in this case based on the special circumstances surrounding it was unique. It did not have any legal fallout since the Judge added that all cases of amnesia require separate scrutiny and this ruling will not be the basis for arguing another case of amnesia (Forensicmentalhealthservices.org, 2009).
Sleepwalking is a fairly common problem among individuals suffering from sleep disorders. Sleepwalking is a defense strategy to plead temporary diminished capacity or insanity.
Phoenix police was making enquires because a man reported seeing his neighbor holding a woman’s head down in a swimming pool. The suspect calmly answered questions and curious to know why the police were asking questions about his wife. When the body was discovered in the pool, the suspect responded in a suspicious manner. The defense team for the suspect, Scott Falater contended that their client was a sleepwalker and his wife accidentally woke him up. This rude awakening in mid-sleep, resulted in the murder of Mrs. Falater. The defense brought in experts to support their theory. The prosecution brought its designated experts in the line to refute the case for the defense.
The defense relied on the plea of temporary insanity through sleepwalking. Their other strategy was to discredit the eyewitness. Linking the account of the incident to sleepwalking and subsequent excuse to plead not guilty was the defense team’s case. They also used a temporary amnesia defense. The case hearings were full of scientific and medical findings that supported or opposed the defense team’s contention. The defense relied heavily on the fact that sleepwalkers will not remember any information on their nightly prowls and will react violently if awakened; diminished capacity and temporary insanity.
The experts for the prosecution provided medical reports suggesting that Scott Falater had signs of a sleeping disorder that might cause sleepwalking. However, the neighbor’s testimony and the suspect’s own story made sleepwalking an impossibility for Scott Falater. Medical experts contended that sleepwalkers can only perform simple actions. The defendant was repairing a poolside motor, observed changing clothes, and hiding bloodstained clothes did not reflect the characteristics of a sleepwalker.
Outcome of the case
The jury found the defendant guilty as charged on all counts. There were numerous discrepancies in the defendant’s case. The defense team’s justification of sleepwalking fell through when expert witnesses testified that patients with this disorder cannot perform complex maneuvers. In addition, there was an eyewitness who saw the defendant attempting to kill the victim near the pool. They physical evidence and the sleepwalking story did not match sequentially (Rothenberg, 1999).
Forensicmentalhealthservices.org Staff (2009). Robert WILSON v. UNITED STATES of America. Retrieved from: http://forensicmentalhealthservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/wilson-v-united-states.pdf
Rothenberg, J. (1999). Wide-awake jury nails ‘sleepwalking’ wife-killer. Retrieved from: http://nypost.com/1999/06/26/wide-awake-jury-nails-sleepwalking-wife-killer/