Criminal Defense

I Blacked Out: Is Amnesia/Unconsciousness an Acceptable Criminal Defense?

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Criminal DefenseIn the critically acclaimed movie Primal Fear, Richard Gere plays the role of Martin Vale, a famed crime lawyer who defends the seemingly guilty altar boy, Aaron Stampler, played by Edward Norton. In the story, Aaron was charged with the horrific murder of a beloved archbishop. The problem was, he didn’t remember committing the crime because of his disorder, which is blacking out at unexpected times.

While this is a peculiar case, many courts recognize unconsciousness as a valid defense to a criminal case. Courts found that unconsciousness keeps a person from behaving or acting with a guilty mind. Some determined that it means the accused could not have committed the act, as there is no intentional or voluntary movement of the body.

The Case for Passing Out

Criminal defense firms like notes the different situations can trigger unconsciousness such as head injury, blackout out, involuntary intoxication, or sleepwalking. Some states require the accused to present the evidence of unconsciousness, and then the prosecution will need to prove that the blackout was beyond a reasonable doubt.  In other states, however, it is considered an affirmative defense that the accused needs to prove.

The Case for Memory Loss

When it comes to amnesia, however, the rule is a little different. Not remembering anything is not the same as not having the mental state needed for a crime. If the accused did not remember committing the act, it doesn’t mean that defendant did not actually commit it. Amnesia is not usually a viable criminal defense. It might be valid, however, if it comes as a form of insanity.

When the case for amnesia is raised, it can have complex legal issues. This is because the people accept the defense of “I blacked out” or “I don’t know what happened” with extreme cynicism and doubt. Besides, it favors the accused to forget in certain situations. Unexplained temporary amnesia needs to come with a mental condition to be an available defense.

The case of unconsciousness and memory loss can be a tricky one, so it is important to hire a lawyer. There may also be other available defenses to avoid a conviction.

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