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Law School Case Brief

Fulcher v. State - 633 P.2d 142 (Wyo. 1981)

Rule:

The defense of unconsciousness perhaps should be more precisely denominated as the defense of automatism. Automatism is the state of a person who, though capable of action, is not conscious of what he is doing. While in an automatistic state, an individual performs complex actions without an exercise of will. Because these actions are performed in a state of unconsciousness, they are involuntary. Automatistic behavior may be followed by complete or partial inability to recall the actions performed while unconscious. Thus, a person who acts automatically does so without intent, exercise of free will, or knowledge of the act.

Facts:

Defendant Robert Brian Fulcher attacked a person while being held in jail after being arrested for public intoxication. During trial in Wyoming state court, he entered a plea of not guilty and presented the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist who testified that in his expert opinion, defendant suffered brain injury and was in a state of traumatic automatism at the time of the attack. The doctor defined traumatic automatism as the state of mind in which a person did not have conscious and willful control over his actions, and lacked the ability to be aware of and to perceive his external environment. Notwithstanding this testimony, defendant was convicted of aggravated assault without dangerous weapon in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann § 6-4-506(a) (1977). Thereafter, defendant appealed his conviction.

Issue:

Notwithstanding testimony that defendant suffered traumatic automatism during the attack, was defendant guilty of aggravated assault without dangerous weapon?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that the trial court properly received and considered evidence of unconsciousness absent a plea of "not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency" because the defense of unconsciousness resulting from a concussion with no permanent brain damage was an affirmative defense and was a defense separate from the defense of not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency. The court also held that the presumption of mental competency was never overcome and the evidence presented formed a reasonable basis on which the trial judge could find that the State had met the required burden of proof.

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