In criminal law, the defendant can, in response to criminal allegations raise one of a number of defenses against the prosecution which may either mitigate his charges or completely refute them and give way to an alternative verdict. Defenses differ in terms of specific intent crimes and basic intent crimes. For specific intent crimes, where intention is important to establish guilt (murder for example), the defense of intoxication mitigates the offence to that of manslaughter, which in turn mitigates the punishment. For basic intent crimes, where recklessness suffices as mens rea, close to all defenses apply and can help negate mens rea in order to establish innocence.
The variety of defenses that apply to criminal offenses include insanity (insane automatism), sane automatism, alibi, intoxication, mistake, self defense, necessity and duress.
Insanity is an element of automatism, specifically insane automatism. Automatism is a state in which the offender acts without any conscious control of the mind over his muscles. What is essential, however, is a total destruction of voluntary control (Hart, 1968) and partial loss of control, such as falling into a haze of sleep because of driving for too long does not count (Attorney-General’s Reference (No.2 of 1992), 1993). Insane automatism, referred to as diminished responsibility in United States law, is defined as a sudden and involuntary loss of self control from a disease of the mind which causes a person to be unable to tell the nature of the act that he is doing (M’Naughten Rules, 1843). Rules for the defense of insanity derived from the M’Naughten Rules are incorporated in the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. If the defense is argued successfully it leads to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity which allows the judge to sentence the accused to a mental asylum on his discretion. Sane automatism is a defense that is defined by a total and involuntary destruction of control due to an external factor, such as a concussion from a blow to the head or being attacked by a swarm of bees.
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