Criminal Law, Pages 122–124

State v. Utter

Court of Appeals of Washington, 1971

Facts:

Defendant was a military veteran who was drinking heavily. His son entered his apartment and was stabbed to death by his father. Defendant was too drunk to remember doing this however.

Procedural History:

The trial court ruled that conditioned response was the same thing as irresistible impulse and not a defense in the state and instructed the jury to disregard all evidence on the subject. The jury convicted defendant of manslaughter.

Issue:

Was defendant's conditioned response a valid defense?

Defendant's Argument:

Defendant has a conditioned response to act violently to people approaching his from behind because of his WWII experiences.

Rule:

In addition to having mens rea, crimes also require the actus reus to be voluntary—a willed movement.

Reasoning:

Defendant's claim is similar to the defense of irresistible impulse, which has been rejected in Washington, but it does have differences. This is more similar to the defense of unconsciousness. Unconsciousness does not provide a defense to crimes when the unconsciousness is voluntarily induced through drug use, however.

Here, it is unknown if defendant was even in an unconscious state at the time of the murder. There is no evidence from which a jury could decide what happened, so they could only speculate as to what caused defendant to kill his son.

Holding:

While the theory could be valid, there is no evidence of it in this case to be tried. Affirmed.

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