Defence of Automatism

The term "automatism" describes unconscious, involuntary behaviour. Automatism is a "defence" to criminal charges in the following sense: to convict an accused the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt both a prohibited act and fault.

Automatism, Defence of

The term "automatism" describes unconscious, involuntary behaviour. Automatism is a "defence" to criminal charges in the following sense: to convict an accused the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt both a prohibited act and fault. The accused's act must have been voluntary, the product of choice or will. The fault requirement for many criminal offences is a subjective mental state - a guilty mind, or MENS REA, involving an intention to perform the act and knowledge of the circumstances. Both voluntariness and mens rea may ordinarily be inferred from the facts of an alleged offence. In certain cases, evidence of automatism may, however, be admitted to rebut the inference of voluntariness or the capacity for mens rea, and so to show that the accused was not criminally responsible. The legal rules governing the use of automatism evidence vary with the cause of the automatism, which may be disease of the mind, intoxication or some other circumstances.

By raising evidence of automatism, an accused puts his or her sanity in issue. Pursuant to the mental disorder rules, the automatism may be proved to have been caused by mental disorder, and the accused would be found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. SeeCRIMINAL CAPACITY.

The use of evidence of automatism caused by intoxication is limited by the common-law intoxication rules and s33.1 of the Criminal Code. In particular, under s33.1, self-induced intoxication automatism is no defence to offences of violence (seeINTOXICATION, DEFENCE OF).

Evidence of Automatism

Evidence produced by other causes is generally admissible to show that the accused's act was involuntary or that the accused lacked the requisite intent. An accused is entitled to an acquittal if he or she can raise a reasonable doubt as to whether at the time of an offence he or she was a noninsane, nonintoxicated automaton. Acquittals on this basis are rare, though it brought an acquittal in the case of Dorothy Joudrie in Calgary in 1996.

Judicially Recognized Automatism
Noninsane automatism may be produced by such causes as a blow to the head or physiological conditions such as poisoning, stroke or hypoglycaemia. More controversial judicially recognized causes of automatism include some sleep disorders and psychological reactions to severe shocks - not including reactions to the ordinary stresses and disappointments of life. These causes are distinguished from diseases of the mind by reference to factors such as whether the automatism could be attributed to an "external" cause, the ease with which the condition could be feigned, the likelihood of recurrence of the condition, whether treatment is required and medical or psychiatric evidence.