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Automatism Excludes Criminal Responsibility

Dated: [bxcode.pagedata.date]

In a judgement delivered recently, the Criminal Courts concluded that automatism excludes criminal responsibility. The facts of the case relate to a fatal traffic accident when the accused, whilst driving his vehicle, suffered from an epileptic fit. As a result of this, he blanked out for a few seconds and first hit a parked vehicle and then hit a pedestrian who unfortunately died as a result of the impact.

The Court recognised that the accused suffered from a condition of temporal cavernoma which is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, usually found in the brain and spinal cord.

Dr. Norbert Vella, a Consultant Neurologist and also the Chairman of the Department of NeuroScience at MaterDei Hospital explained that the accused “wanted to get rid of the problem”. However, this “is not always written in stone that you get rid of the problem”.

To further explain this condition Dr Vella made a distinction between a blackout which arises due to distraction and one which arises from the accused’s condition. He did this by way of example, imagine you are washing the plates and you know that you have six plates to wash and you get distracted. Although distracted you will continue washing the plates and you would recall that you have washed the plates.

In the case of temporal cavernoma one would have no recollection of what happened and would not even realise that he has washed the plates at all. It is like that moment he lived never happened nor will it ever be remembered.

Despite having this condition, however, the accused was never told that he was not allowed to drive. Moreover, although the accused at the time of the incident had in is possession 0.46g of Cannabis such drugs were not found in his system but what was found was sodium valproate which is the medication that was medically prescribed to him in order to control his epileptic fits.

The Court also went further to compare this condition with that of somnambulism and hypnotism. In this case the Court made reference to Prof Mamo who explains that “no man can be held criminally liable for anything done by him in his sleep”. The hypnotic condition, which results from such sleep like illnesses, reduces a person to a state in which there is absolute loss of volitional power and incapability of resistance and utter loss of knowledge of what happens.

Upon recognizing the significance behind this legal concept and that it was present in this case, the Court concluded that the accused was not to be found guilty of involuntary homicide.

Dr. Joseph Giglio represented the accused in these proceedings.

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