Automatism is a rather interesting and difficult issue in criminal law. Not every lawyer is able to help in such a case, as well as not every barrister will protect the defendant in the case of automatism. In this research paper, I will try to outline the main peculiarities of automatism and provide the examples of it. There are many cases when automatism has been involved and all they have their special features, their peculiarities. I will support my points of view with case studies, as well as with scientific findings and research results. I have based my research on the scientific and peer reviewed articles written by scientists and professors of law.
I have divided the research paper in two parts. The first part I devoted to the issue of literature review whereas in the second part I have outlined the main features of automatism and analyzed the cases when the features are involved.
Criminal law is rather difficult field of studies. There are such cases where it is hard to distinguish which law should be applied. Sometimes it happens that a person unconsciously commits a crime. Such cases involves muscle crumps, reflex action or convulsion. Such uncontrolled actions, which result into a criminal offence, are called automatism. This research paper is devoted to the issue of automatism. There has been many scientific articles written, as well as many researches done on this issue. In this research paper, I will try to sum all the knowledge up to provide an outline of what automatism is its main features and cases where automatism took place. Besides, I will conduct a short literature review to give a brief overview on scientific articles devoted to this issue. The research paper will be divided into two parts. In the first part, I will provide the literature review, whereas the second part I will devote to the issue of case studies of cases on automatism.
The first article I want to outline is the article presented by the Law Commission in 2013. The article is called “Criminal liability: insanity and automatism”. In this article, the authors (the representatives of the Law Commission) discuss the issue of insanity and automatism through the lens of modern law. Moreover, the authors discuss possible problems that may occur in such situation. The Law Commission consists of professors, who know the current situation and are able to predict what can happen in several years. Hence, one part of the article is devoted to the issue of possible future automatism defenses. The Law Commission was aimed at thorough examination of the issue of automatism. Hence, the representatives of it provided the main reasons of automatism, as well as its main categories in the article. The article is rather significant for my research because it shows the main peculiarities of the nature of automatism. Besides, it gives a scope of problems defendants in automatism cases face.
Alan Brudner, the professor of law in Toronto, wrote an article called “Insane automatism: a proposal for reform”. The author of the article chose to look at this problem from different point of view. He looked at the narrower problem: the problem of insane automatism. The author outlined the history of development of the term of insane automatism. The second part of the article was devoted to the issue of what insane automatism is and how the modern law deals with it. The author tries to understand whether detaining the innocent insane is the violation of one’s rights or not. This article is rather significant for my research. The point is that Alan Brunder tries to understand the issue of insane automatism from the point of view of judges, who hear such cases. Besides, the strong point of the article is that the author tries to look at the issue objectively and concern different points of view.
The article “A comparison of R. v. Stone with R. v. Parks: two cases of automatism” helps the readers look at the issue from the practical point of view. The authors, Graham D. Glancy, John M. Bradford and Larissa Fedak tried to compare two cases, where automatism was presented. This is the peer reviewed article, which helps us to outline what other scholars and researchers think about this case. The authors took into account not only opinions of lawyers, but of medics, as well. Automatism is a psychological and medical problem, as well. Hence, it is significant to keep in mind that doctors should be involved in every such a case. The authors divided the article into several parts. They devoted separate parts of the article to the cases to let readers find out the main facts of the cases. However, I suggest that the article has a weak point. The authors did not outline the similarities and differences between the cases. Hence, it is rather difficult to distinguish them. This article is significant for my research because it outlines two cases of automatism, and how judges dealt with the issue of it. Besides, it helped me to look at the issue of automatism from the medical point of view.
Theory and practice. Automatism
Automatism applies in cases, when actions taken by the mentally healthy defendant in unconscious state. The cases of automatism include offences when a criminal action is caused by muscle crumps, reflection or convulsion. Automatism is usually caused by external factors, and the defendant is not controlling his or her actions. Besides, automatism involve cases when a criminal action has been taking while sleep walking or when a person suffers from concussion. Automatism is a rather difficult issue because in such cases it is hard to distinguish actus reus and mens rea. Automatism is available in such cases as:
- When barristers are able to prove that, there has been total loss of voluntary control (for example, the cases Broome vs. Perkins). The defendant had low blood sugar level caused by the abnormally high amount of insulin in blood stream. This caused the defendant driving carelessly. He was accused in driving carelessly and inattentively, which caused danger situation on the road;
- External factors are present. Automatism caused by external factors apply in cases when a person has been under anesthetic or other drug or hypnosis. As the example of such cases, one may refer to the cases as R vs. Quick, R. vs. T or R vs. Antoniuk Post traumatic stress disorder can cause the cases where automatism is involved, as well. R vs. T is such a case. Several days before the crime has been committed, the defendant has been raped. She was accused in robbery and causing body harm. The medical examination showed that the crime has been done while sleep walking.
- Self induced automatism. R vs. Bailey is such a case. The defendant was a diabetic. He visited one person, and during the visit felt bad. He took his meds, but did not eat neither before that nor afterwards. In some minutes, he hit the person he visited in head. He was in hypo-glycemic state and did not control his actions;
- Evidential burden;
- Effect. R vs. Sandie Smith. The defendant threatened the victim’s life. The cause for that was pre-menstruation state of the defendant. However, this case was not won. The court of appeal stated that the defendant could not have been released because she could threaten the society. Hence, it was suggested to have the defendant checked by medics.
In this research paper, I tried to outline the main reasons and peculiarities of automatism. I divided the research paper into two parts. The first part I devoted to the literature review. In this part of the research paper, I analyzed three articles written by lawyers and devoted to this issue. The articles helped me in conducting my research and understanding the nature of automatism better. In the second part, I outlined what I have learned during the research. I have distinguished the main cases when automatism is available, and support my results with cases of automatism.
A, B. (2000). Insane automatism: a proposal for reform. McGill Journal, 65-85.
Comission, L. (2013). Criminal liability: insanity and automatism. Dsicussion paper.
Glancy G. D., B. J. (2002, 7). A comparison of R. vs. Stone with R. vs. Parks: two cases of automatism. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, pp. 541-547.