About a year ago, I became involved in the strangest case of my career.
The defendant was accused of committing a class A Felony and faced 25
to life in prison. He took himself to the police station and told them
he only recalled partying the night before, going to bed and having some
wild dreams. Witnesses described horrible actions. This guy cried to the
cops, said he didn't remember. He cried to me, said he didn't
remember. I think the investigator believed him. So did I.
My investigation revolved around parasomnia AKA, sleepwalking. I spoke
to a leading Professor from the
University of Rochester Sleep & Neurophysiology Research Lab. He explained that there is absolutely no doubt that people do things
while they are asleep. Scientists can tell whether or not a person is
asleep by the electrical currents their brains produce. Sometimes people
will sleepwalk, sleepeat or sleeptalk right before their eyes in the lab.
Obviously most subconscious activities occur at home and the bed partner
is the most likely to know about it. Aggravating factors include:
- Lack of rest
Sleepwalking can be a defense in a criminal case because the law requires
that a person have some level of control over an action if they are to
be held accountable for it. Most law students learn about Albert Tirrell,
the first person to use the sleepwalking defense. Tirrell stabbed a prostitute
and burned the brothel, in 1845. His defense was that he was asleep and
that he didn't chose to kill her. He was acquitted of Murder and Arson.
Ever since the Tirrell verdict, the sleepwalking defenses have trickled
in. Simon Fraser was quickly acquitted for killing his toddler son, who
slept in his bedroom along with his wife in 1870. The defense won twice
in the 1980s in Arizona for men killing their spouses.
The most famous sleepwalking defense is from Toronto. Kenneth Parks was
lost his job and fell asleep on the couch after he hadn't slept in
days. A few hours later, he drove nearly twenty minutes to his in-laws'
home, where he strangled and choked them. He awoke on the drive home,
confused. He drove to the police station covered in blood, and reported
he didn't know where it was from. Kenneth Parks was also found not
guilty of Murder.
There are also many cases in which the sleepwalking defense was not successful.
One significant distinction seems to be a lack of motive when the defense
is successful. In my case, the scientist reported that my client did exhibit
signs of potential for sleepwalking during his sleep analysis. He agreed
to testify that it was possible my client was asleep. I presented the
evidence of expert opinion to the prosecutor and the defendant, facing
life in prison, was offered probation. He accepted the offer, which is
a topic for another day. Contact my
Rochester criminal defense office now to learn more about the different types of defense strategies that
may be useful in your own case.