Automatism: A defendant is regarded as being in a state of automatism when his actions are automatic.Automatism is generally associated with the operation of external factors upon the working of the brain, rather than inherent mental defects.
In Brathy V. Attorney General for Northern Ireland51 Lord Denning viewed automatism to occur where something was done by the defendant’s muscles without the control of his mind. He considered this definition to include spasms, reflex actions, sleep walking, nightmares, fits etc.
There are various situations in which the accused can be said to be acting in a state of automatism. Actions performed while sleep-walking are generally accepted as automatism.
More Study On Insanity
The term automatism is not used in the criminal code but can be implied from the first paragraph of section 24 of the criminal code which provided that “subject to the express provisions of this code relating the negligent acts or omission, a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission, which occurs independently of the exercise of his will, or for an event which occurs by accident”.
I think these definitions fits into the first arm of the defense under s.24 of the criminal code and it is right to say that there is provisions in our criminal code under this section for the defense of automatism, the second arm being that of accident.
This defense is not a regularly defense in the Nigerian court. The only known case in Nigeria in which the defense of automatism was successfully raised is the case of public V. Iyarmet and the other is state v. OJeka where the defense was rejected.
For the defense of automatism to be successful there is need for medical evidence. In the words of Uwaefo, J.C.A-“I do not doubt there are genuine cases of automatism, however, a layman can not safely attempt without the help of some medical or scientific evidence to distinguish the genuine from the fraudulent.”
The distinction between this defense and the insanity defense is that the defense of insanity requires that the involuntariness of the accused action should be traceable to a disease of the mind’ while that of automatism recognizes the possibility of such behavioral phenomena occurring in the absence of such disease. The importance of the distinction lies in the fact that a verdict of “not guilty by result of insanity”, results in mandatory commitment while a finding of automatism results in complete acquittal.
Another difference is, although the defendant bears the evidential burden in respect of automatism, the burden of proof remains on the prosecution to show that the defendant acted voluntarily unlike in the defense of insanity where the burden is on the accused to proof that he was insane at the time of the action.