Homicidal Somnambulism Critical Summary
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One of the most controversial topics ever discussed in trial courts today is the use of automatism as a legal defence, which is often seen in cases involving homicide. In “Homicidal Somnambulism: A Case Report,” Broughton et al. (1994) discussed somnambulism as a form of a “non-insane automatism,” which entitles an individual convicted of sleepwalking murder with full acquittal according to Section 16 of the Canadian Criminal Code. The article itself contains a detailed discussion explaining how sleepwalking came to be a form of automatism, as well why it is considered sane as opposed to being a “disease of the mind”. Several studies were made regarding the nature sleepwalking, taking into account the fact that insanity itself might be the factor responsible for constituting such actions. The possibility of having a hidden motivation–such as the intention of killing–was also taken into consideration. Though these are likely–and perhaps, favoured–assumptions, research findings showed that it is possible for a person with a healthy mental state to experience sleepwalking, and that the intention of killing is not always present. Rather, the sleepwalker is said to be unconscious and is only partially aware of his surroundings. It is due to these reasons–the absence of volition and the lack of consciousness–that sleepwalking is considered a form of automatism. And by proving that sleepwalking is not a form of insanity, the accused is given the right to be discharged from any allegations.
In sleepwalking murder, one often thinks that there are intentions involve, compelling the person to do such act despite being unconscious. This is indeed a reasonable explanation, although study shows that the intention of killing is not always present. In most cases involving homicidal somnambulism, the sleepwalker is said to be enacting a dream, and that what is being acted upon depends upon the nature of the dream (Walsh, 1920). This gives a good explanation as to why some sleepwalkers ended up killing someone whom they are close to. One example that supports this theory is the Kenneth Parks Case, in which the convicted is said to have murdered his mother-in-law who was dear to him (Broughton et al., 1994). Having said that the sleepwalker is under a dream state dismisses the fact that any intentions were involve, since what the person sees under the given state is the material of his dream (Walsh, 1920). Ones consciousness is also put into question as one cannot help but wonder how activities as complex as killing can be done without the person getting into accident.
Another issue concerning sleepwalking murder is the fact that it might be link to mental illnesses, which would have concluded it as a form of insanity. It is true that sleepwalking is related to other psychiatric disorders as it can appear to be a symptom that rooted from illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia