For many types of crimes you have to voluntarily do something illegal.  This includes voluntarily taking someone else’s property or breaking into someone’s home.  However, sometimes a person cannot control their actions, like if they have an epileptic seizure.

When Can You Use The Defense Of Having A Disorder To Avoid Criminal Liability?

There are generally four times when you can use the defense of having a disorder to avoid criminal liability.  Most of these defenses revolve around the idea of having a “reflex or convulsion” or a movement while unconscious.  In the most famous case (People v. Grant) Grant claimed that prior to the aggravated assault he suffered a “blackout” which was caused by his psychomotor epilepsy.  The court ruled that the jury should be instructed that if his actions were not voluntary then he shouldn’t be convicted of the crime.

The other common example is that of a sleep disorder.  If you can show that the act was not actually voluntary, due to sleep deprivation (which would need to be somewhat extreme) or sleepwalking, then you may be able to escape liability.  For example, a defendant was entitled to use expert testimony from a doctor to show that his assault on a police officer was involuntary due to his sleep disorder and consequent dissociative state.  Some court have argued that women suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) should be able to assert that they were unable to control their actions.  However, this defense has not been accepted by any U.S. courts.

Finally, a defendant suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder may be able to claim that they were unable to control their actions.  For example a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD as the result of combat trauma could argue that the resulting nightmares, reduction in emotional response, memory loss, and loss of sleep entitle him to avoid criminal liability.  With war veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, it will be interesting to see how the courts treat those suffering from PTSD in the future.

What do you think?  Should someone be able to claim they “sleep robbed” a bank?

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