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Defenses to Criminal Acts: Automatism

When a person is shown to have committed a crime, that person can invoke a defense that shows why the action is not a crime. One of these defenses is automatism. Another defense that is more commonly invoked is insanity.

In criminal law, automatism is a defense to liability. Other than instances of strict liability offenses, a crime must contain two elements: the actus reus (Latin for “guilty act”) and the mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”). The defense of automatism seeks to prove that the criminal defendant made only physical movement and did not “act” as required to prove the actus reus. The term comes from and is descriptive of movements that are characteristic of an automaton like a machine that moves.

The criminal defendant is charged with a crime because he or she was involved in a situation where consequences prohibited by law occurred. The substance of the defense is that the accused individual should be excused from liability because the consequences were a result of movements that were not within the defendant’s control. These movements include reflexes or actions taken while sleepwalking.

Of the conditions raised as defenses, automatism is the only one that relates to the actus reus element. All other defenses relate to the mens rea element, such as the defense of drunkenness claims that the accused could not form the mens rea. A mistake of fact, if of sufficient substance and honestly held, would give the accused a non-criminal set of intentions. Automatism is the only criminal defense that excludes liability by negating the existence of the actus reus (“guilty act”). This allows it to be a defense to both conventional and strict liability offenses.

Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of committing a crime, contact the Appleton criminal defense lawyers of Hart Powell, S.C. at 1-888-565-7597 to determine the best plan for a successful defense.