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Cases - defences - automatism

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Attorney General's Reference No 2 1992 (1993)

Bailey, R v (1983) CA

Bingham, R v (1991) CA

Bratty v AG Northern Ireland (1996)

Broome v Perkins (1987) QBD

Charlson, R v [1955] Barry J

Finegan v Heywood (2000) HCJ

Hardie (1984) CA

Hennessy, R v (1989) CA

Hill v Baxter [1958] QBD

Lipman, R v (1970) CA

Quick, R v (1973) CA

Smith, R v (Sandie) [1982] CA

Sullivan, R v  (1983) HL

T, R v [1990] Southan J Snaresbrook Crown Court

Watmore v Jenkins [1962] QBD

Attorney General's Reference No 2 1992 (1993)

 

[Automatism - reckless driving - total loss of control required – driving without awareness not sufficient]
D drove his lorry for six hours and hit a stationary vehicle on the hard shoulder, killing two people.

He claimed automatism because he was 'driving without awareness'.

 

Held: automatism occurs when there is a total loss of voluntary control.  Impaired or reduced control is not sufficient.  D had some control of the lorry, he was able to steer and was partially aware of what was going on the road ahead of him.

 

Not Guilty (but should have been)

Bailey, R v (1983) CA

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Automatism - self-induced - available for specific or basic intent in some circumstances]
D seriously injured a rival in love with an iron bar.  D, a diabetic, visited his ex-girlfriend and her new partner.  He took insulin and drank some sugared water but he had nothing to eat.  He assaulted the partner of his ex-girlfriend.  He said he hit him to teach him a lesson for associating with the girl.  D claimed he acted in a state of automatism caused by hypoglycaemia.  He did not complicate the issue with alcohol or drugs.

 

Held: Automatism, even if self-induced could provide a defence to a crime of basic intent crime (unless caused by intoxication).  What must be considered is whether D, in view of his knowledge of the likely results of his actions, was sufficiently reckless.  It was not necessarily reckless to fail to take food after a dose of insulin.

 

Guilty although non-insane (self-induced) automatism, no injustice at trial.

Bingham, R v (1991) CA

[Automatism - distinguished from insanity - the former can be caused by diabetes, the latter by its treatment]

D a diabetic was charged with theft of a can of "Coke" and sandwiches, worth £1.16, at a time when he had £90 in his pocket. He had paid for one can of Coke, He made "no comment" to questions. He was suffering from automatism by way of hypoglycaemia and was unaware of his actions. The judge refused to leave that defence to the jury.

 

Held: Allowing the appeal. Hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia should be distinguished.
The former being too much sugar in the blood, and the latter too little.

Hyperglycaemia might raise difficult problems about the M'Naghten rules and verdicts of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hypoglycaemia was caused by too much insulin, or by insufficient quality or quantity of food to counter-balance the insulin.

That would provide a satisfactory defence to an alleged crime such as theft, due to lack of mens rea.

Those simple facts would be plain to anyone who troubled to read Quick (1973) and Hennessy [1989].
Comment:
If automatism was caused by an "external factor," the verdict will be simply not guilty, if by an "internal factor," not guilty by reason of insanity. Diabetes is obviously an internal, factor; so if the diabetes results in hyperglycaemia which causes automatism the defendant is "insane" within the meaning of the M'Naghten Rules.

 

The administration of insulin is an external factor and, if it results in hypoglycaemia which causes automatism, the defendant is simply not guilty. It is as if the automatism had been caused by an accidental blow on the head.


It is obviously absurd to describe a diabetic as "insane" and to subject him to indefinite detention. For proposals for the reform of the law see the Law Commission's draft Criminal Code (Law Com. No. 177).

 

Not Guilty

Bratty v AG Northern Ireland (1996)

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Automatism - epilepsy]
D strangled a girl with her stocking.  He claimed that at the time he was suffering from psychomotor epilepsy.

 

Held: D is entitled to raise the defence of automatism if the jury rejects the defence of insanity.

'No act is punishable if it is done involuntarily and an involuntary act … means an act which is done by the muscles without any control by the mind such as a spasm, a reflex action or a convulsion; or an act done by a person who is not conscious of what he is doing, such as an act done whilst suffering from concussion or done whilst sleep-walking'.     

An act is not involuntary simply because the defendant does not remember it or because he was unable to control an impulse to do it.

 

Lord Denning:

"Any mental disorder which has manifested itself in violence and is prone to recur is a disease of the mind (p. 412)."

Psychomotor epilepsy would be insanity.

 

Guilty

Broome v Perkins (1987) QBD

 

[General Defences – Automatism  - cerebral tumour]
D in a hypoglycaemic state drove home very erratically from work, hitting another car at one point.  Afterwards he could remember nothing about the journey, but seeing the damage to his car, reported himself to the police.  Medical evidence suggested that it was possible for someone in his state to complete a familiar journey without being conscious of doing so, and that although his awareness of what was going on around him would be imperfect, he would be able to react sufficiently to steer and operate the car, even though not very well.

Held: since the accused was able to exercise some voluntary control over his movements, he had not been acting in an entirely involuntary manner,
and therefore the defence of automatism was not available.

Guilty

Charlson, R v [1955] Barry J

 

[General Defences – Automatism  - cerebral tumour]
D, for no apparent reason, hit his ten-year-old son on the head with a hammer and threw him into a river.  There was evidence that D, an otherwise good father suffered from a cerebral tumour which could have caused the sudden violence. 

Held: D did not know what he was doing, so that his mind was not in control of his limbs.

(The question of insanity was apparently not raised).

Not guilty of sec 18 OAPA 1861

Finegan v Heywood (2000) HCJ

 

[Automatism - alcohol - drink driving offences]
D drove with excess alcohol.  He said he was suffering from non-insane automatism as he had driven the car in a state of parasomnia.

 

Held: the defence of automatism was not available where alcohol had induced F's condition and where F knew from previous experience that his parasomnia was preceded by the consumption of alcohol.

 

Guilty

Hardie (1984) CA

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Automatism due to non prescribed soporific drugs can be used as a defence]
D took a Valium tablets to calm himself when the woman whose tablets they were told him they would do him no harm him to leave their flat. D set fire to a wardrobe   

 

Held:  D's state of mind had to be considered. The self-administration of a sedative or soporific drug, could negative mens rea unlike self-induced intoxication by alcohol or dangerous drugs.

If by taking the drug a defendant could not appreciate the risks to property and persons from his actions, the jury should consider whether the taking of the drug was itself reckless

 

Not guilty

Hennessy, R v (1989) CA

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Automatism – stress, anxiety and depression not external factors that can be used to found defence]
D took a motorcar without consent whilst disqualified.  He argued that hyperglycaemia was caused by failure to take insulin, which in turn was caused by stress and depression, which Lord

 

Held: Lane said were not external factors. 

Hennessy’s hyperglycaemia was triggered by an internal factor (his diabetes))

'In our judgment, stress, anxiety and depression can no doubt be the result of the operation of external factors, but they are not, it seems to us, in themselves separately or together external factors of the kind capable in law of causing or contributing to a state of automatism.'

The Court of Appeal pointed out that they were prone to recur and lacked the feature of novelty or accident.  The kind of external factors the law required would be something like a blow to the head, or an anaesthetic.’

 

Guilty

Hill v Baxter [1958] QBD

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[General Defences - Automatism]
D was behind the wheel when his car collided with another; at his trial on a charge of dangerous driving, he claimed he had been overcome by an unknown illness and had been unconscious.

 

Held: Some credible evidence must support a claim of sudden illness or concussion, they said, usually going beyond D's mere assertion, but (Lord Goddard CJ dissenting) the burden of proof thereafter is on the prosecution to show that the act was a voluntary one. 

Lord Goddard, quoting Humphreys J in Kay v Butterworth 1945 resurrected the now famous and hypothetical ‘Swarm of Bees’.

 

Guilty

Lipman, R v (1970) CA

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[General Defences - Automatism]
D and his girlfriend V each took a quantity of LSD (a hallucinatory drug).  During his "trip", D imagined he was being attacked by snakes at the centre of the earth and had to defend himself; in doing so, he actually killed V by cramming eight inches of sheet down her throat.

 

Held: He was acquitted of murder because the jury were not sure that he had the necessary intention, being intoxicated.

 

Guilty of manslaughter

Quick, R v (1973) CA

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Automatism - an external factor]
D, a nurse, assaulted a patient.  He was a diabetic, had taken insulin and not eaten sufficient food.  He drank whisky and rum he could not remember the assault.  He pleaded automatism.

 

Held: D was suffering from automatism, which is a mental abnormality caused by an external factor.  He was not suffering from insanity caused by hypoglycaemia (low sugar in the blood) by taking insulin prescribed by his doctor.  [Distinguished from hyperglycaemia high blood sugar occurring naturally, which would be insanity]

 Lawton LJ:

'a self-induced incapacity will not excuse ... nor will one which could have been reasonably foreseen as a result of either doing or omitting to do something, for example, taking alcohol against medical advice after using certain prescribed drugs or failing to have regular meals while taking insulin.'

 

Not guilty

Smith, R v (Sandie) [1982] CA

 

[Automatism – PMT not automatism]
D threatened to kill and carried an offensive weapon.  She was already on probation for manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, and brought evidence to show a history of psychological disturbance and violent behaviour clearly associated with her menstrual cycle.

 

Held: PMT could not provide a defence of automatism.

 

Guilty a probation order (now Community Punishment Order) with a condition D undergo a course of drug treatment.  

Sullivan, R v  (1983) HL

 Red Triangle indicates "Must Know" material

[Epilepsy is insanity, not automatism]
D kicked neighbour in the head and body while having epileptic fit.

 

Held: Epilepsy is insanity, (not automatism) it affects the mind, not an external cause such as drugs or alcohol.

 

Guilty

T, R v [1990] Southan J Snaresbrook Crown Court

 

[Automatism – post traumatic stress disorder arising from rape is an external factor]
D took part in a robbery with others.  When arrested she could remember very little, she had been raped a few days earlier.  A psychiatrist diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and suggested she had not at the time of the robbery been acting with her conscious mind. 

Held: The judge said there was a question of sane automatism to go to the jury.

 

Verdict not reported.

Watmore v Jenkins [1962] QBD

 

[Automatism - reckless driving - total loss of control required – driving without awareness not sufficient]
D drove dangerously while suffering progressive hypoglycaemia gradually lost consciousness over the course of a five-mile drive. 

 

Held:  Winn J said a state of automatism is no more than a modern catchphrase, which the courts have not accepted as connoting any wider or looser concept than involuntary movement of the body or limbs.  Only when the driver is not really driving at all is the defence of automatism available to him. 

Guilty

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