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Transcript of Automatism
For an accused to be found guilty, the actus reus of an offence must be committed voluntarily -- must be the conscious choice of an operating mind.
Criminal Law does not hold people responsible for actions they cannot control.
The Supreme Court of Canada has defined automatism as “a state of impaired consciousness, rather than unconsciousness, in which an individual, though capable of action, has no voluntary control over that action”.
Successful defense of automatism will lead to a finding of not guilty. The Legal Defense of Automatism In the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision R v. Rabey, Justice Ritchie defined non-insane automatism as :
“ … unconscious involuntary behaviour, the state of a person who, though capable of action, is not conscious of what he is doing. It means an unconscious act where the mind does not go with what is being done.”
A classic example of automatism is in the case of R v. Bleta, where the defense was upheld on a charge of murder. During a fight, Bleta fell and struck his head on the pavement. He claimed that he stabbed the victim to death as the result of the injuries he had suffered to his head.
Non-insane automatism has been recognized by Canadian Courts in cases involving :
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Reflex actions by someone who was preoccupied
The defence has been rejected in cases of acts caused by :
Hardening of the arteries
The psychological effects of being rejected by a girlfriend Non-Insane Automatism
The accused, Rabey, had become infatuated with an attractive female classmate at university.
Rabey accidentally came across a letter she had written to one of her friends in which she discussed the accused and other people.
She wrote in the letter that she considered Rabey a “nothing” compared with other males to whom she found more attractive.
Rabey who never dated other girls for any length of time was very upset about the letter.
The next day, Rabey ran into his classmate and asked her to join him to watch the squash match.
While at the squash match, Rabey asked the girl about her thoughts on a mutual friend, and she replied that he was “just a friend”. When asked what she thought of Rabey, she again replied that he was also just a friend.
Rabey then struck the girl on the head with a cloth-wrapped rock, grabbed the victim by the throat and began to choke her.
Rabey was charged with causing bodily harm with intent to wound.
At his trial he raised the defence of automatism and was acquitted.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Issue
Was Rabey not guilty by reason of non-insane automatism?
Appeal dismissed. New trail ordered
There was no finding that the accused suffered from psychosis, neurosis, personality disorder or any other on-going psychiatric disorder. This was an isolated event.
The accused had already spent several weeks in a mental institution undergoing tests and assessment, which indicated no need for treatment.
There was no evidence to support the majority’s conclusions that the accuser’s dissociative state was caused by his own psychological or mental make-up. Case: Rabey v. The Queen  Rabey v. The Queen  Much of case law in this area focuses on whether the automatism was caused by a mental disease or was of the “non-insane” variety.
There are two types of the conditions: insane automatism and non-insane automatism.
Insane automatism means there is a disease of the mind/mental disorder
Non-insane automatism requires the cause to be external to yourself, such as a blow to the head, or alcohol consumption.
Distinction is critical because it determines how the accused is treated by the system.
If its caused by mental disease, the defense of mental disorder applies and the accused may be subjected to custodial treatment.
If its caused by “non-insane," the acquittal leads to freedom.
Automatism has been recognized in cases involving stroke, psychological trauma, hypoglycemia and a severe blow to the head. Mental Disorder vs. Non-Insane Automatism Actus Reus: The wrongful act or omission in a criminal offence. Negativing Defense Defined : A defence that raises a reasonable doubt about whether the accused committed the offence charged.
Automatism is a negativing defense because there is a doubt about whether the accused had the necessary mens rea to support a conviction
This defense can negate an essential element in the case
Negate: nullify, make ineffective
Mens Rea: the blameworthy mental element in a criminal offence • Signs of a genuine sleepwalker include not remembering what's happened, or a lot of confused behaviour when awakening.
• But the signs that a sleepwalking expert looks for in someone claiming it as a defence against violence, are not that simple.
• With the defense of automatism, sleep specialists can monitor multiple facets of sleep behaviour, including breathing, brain waves, eye movement and limb movement.
• They look for the tell-tale signs that a sleepwalker has, such as bursts of high brain activity before settling back down to slow wave sleep.
• "One can always potentially have a situation where a sleepwalker wants to commit a crime, so if they know how to replicate the kind of things I'm looking for, they can actually commit a crime and then we'd have problems," Idzikowski explains. (Sleep Disorder Specialist) • The reason someone who, by day is gentle and kind, suddenly becomes aggravated or aggressive in their sleep is due to specific traits of the parts of the brain which are activated during sleepwalking.
• While sleepwalking, the prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain crucial for moral judgement and intent - is effectively offline.
• Other parts of the brain can be hyper-activated during sleep. These include the limbic system and the amygdala.
• These areas are deeply seated in the emotional control of waking experience and give dreams their depth and intensity.
• Couple with the shutdown of rational thinking, this leads to the bizarre nature of dreams.
• The most violent sleepwalking murders tend to occur together with a night terror or after someone has tried to wake them, triggering an uninhibited rage response. • Automatism is a legal defence that shows a lack of a guilty mind. Because their brain renders them unaware of what they are doing, a person cannot be held responsible for their actions. They have no conscious knowledge of their actions.
• Automatism in the sense of a valid legal defense may not hold if the unconscious, involuntary state was the result of voluntary actions.
• The unconscious state must have been completely unforeseen and uncontrollable, as in the case of hypoglycemia, which can cause involuntary and uncontrollable movements in its victims.
• Hypoglycemia – the deficiency of glucose in the blood stream, which can lead to severe disorganization of the brain functioning
• For example, a driver who falls asleep at the wheel and kills a pedestrian may not be successful with the defense of automatism because it is assumed the driver knew he was growing tired and should have stopped to rest. Facts:
Kenneth Parks drove 23 km in the middle of the night to his in-laws home.
He entered their home and attacked them both with a knife, killing his mother-in-law and seriously injuring his father-in-law.
Immediately following the attacks, Parks drove to the nearest police station and made the following statement: “I just killed someone with my bare hands; oh my God, I just killed someone; I’ve just killed two people; my God, I’ve just killed two people.”
He was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.
At trial, Parks claimed that he was sleepwalking and offered evidence about his sleep patterns such as always sleeping heavily, trouble waking up, and other family member also suffered from sleep disorders.
Other evidence suggested that he had a good relationship with his in-laws and that they had supported him when he faced problems at work and a gambling habit during the previous year. Sleepwalking or Murder?
R v. Parks  There was intense investigation by a team of psychiatrist, a neurologist, a psychologist and a sleep disorder specialist.
The experts described Parks' actions as the result of many circumstances converging such as his work problems and gambling habit.
His EEG* readings were highly irregular and these results could not be faked.
* Electroencephalogram – a test to measure the electrical activity of the brain.
There was no motive and his story was very consistent throughout repeated interviews.
His defense was accepted and he was acquitted.
The acquittal was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The Crown appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. R v. Parks Issue:
Was the defense of non-insane automatism available to Parks?
Park’s acquittal was upheld by the Supreme Court and the defense was available.
It focused on whether his sleepwalking was likely to recur and if it did, was he a danger to society?
The Supreme Court also considered whether allowing the defense would bring the judicial system into disrepute.
It was questioned whether this defense could fill the courts with alleged sleepwalkers trying to get away with murders.
The Supreme Court concluded:
Sleepwalking has been a possible defense for over a century
There is no apparent problem with baseless claims of automatism due to sleepwalking
Freeing accused because of sleepwalking may be seen as damaging to the credibility of the justice system
The fundamental rule of criminal law: only those who act voluntarily, intending to commit a crime, should be punished R v. Parks • Is this justice?
• Preventive measures? What should be done with sleepwalking murderers?
• Is there a subconscious element that guides sleepwalkers? Dimensions of Law textbook
http://www.lectlaw.com/mjl/cl033.htm Bibiography Discussion Questions What Do You Think? Guilty Mind Scientific Analysis Investigation of Automatism The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa Diagram of the Brain Electroencephalogram Test Kenneth Parks