Imagine a scenario in which a woman wakes up from sleep one morning to find her three month old infant strangled to death in her crib. Police investigate the crime and ultimately conclude that all of the circumstantial and physical evidence points to the woman as the person who committed act.
Mom is horrified, but doesn’t remember doing it. She has a sleep disorder; she’s a sleepwalker who sometimes does weird things while asleep; things she wouldn’t do while awake. She must have done it when asleep. She asserts this excuse as a defense at her trial. She claims she’s not legally responsible for the death of her infant; not guilty of any crime.
Of course, the little baby whose life was violently snuffed out at the hands of its own mother is just as dead and gone as it would be had her mom been awake. It makes no difference to her whether mom was asleep, or insane, or mentally incompetent, or whatever the excuse. She’s dead; the victim of a homicide; and her mommy did it to her.
Should this woman walk away free? Should the law regard her sleep disorder an excuse which absolves her from guilt for the brutal homicide of her three month old infant? Is she guilty or not guilty? Will there be justice for this homicide or, like the perpetrator; will it be an excuse for justice to fall asleep?
Yes, sometimes justice is asleep. The judicial disorder is manifest in situations as described above and when perpetrator’s of crimes successfully assert insanity and mental incompetence defenses. Justice goes to sleep. The victims are just as much victims but that doesn’t matter to the law.
Recently, Mikeal Halvarsson, a Swedish man walked away free from a prison sentence on a forcible rape conviction courtesy of the “sexomnia” defense. He was asleep when he raped the woman so the law held him not accountable for the crime. It’s a legal defense in some jurisdictions. Sexomnia will make you free. Sexomnia will cause justice to go to sleep.
Well, I’m really sorry that some people have sleep disorders that make them do weird things while sleeping. My heart bleeds for crazy and mentally incompetent defendants who commit violent crimes they otherwise might not have intended to commit. It’s too bad. But these people pose a danger to others and justice requires that they be held accountable for their conduct.
Surely their disorders ought to be taken into account as a mitigating factor when it comes to punishment, but in no case should sexomnia, insanity, mental incompetence or any other human failing absolve one from responsibility as an excuse for harming others. The perpetrator is just as guilty and his victim just as harmed no matter the intent involved in the act.
There is no legitimate excuse for justice asleep.