People v. Newton
8 Cal. App.3d 359, 87 Cal.Rptr. 394 (1970)

  • Newton was in an altercation with the police. He was shot in the stomach. He wrestled the gun away from the policeman and killed him with it. Then he staggered away and took a bus to the hospital.
  • Newton was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter.
  • The Trial Court convicted Newton. He appealed.
    • Newton claimed that he lost consciousness when he was shot, and therefore his actions were not voluntary.
  • The Appellate Court overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court found that unconsciousness is a complete defense to the charge of criminal homicide.
    • The Court found that the jury should have been instructed that if they found Newton was acting autonomously, they should acquit.
  • Model Penal Code §2.01 says that you can’t deter involuntary conduct, so there is no reason to punish them for it.
    • Although, for public safety you might want to send them for custodial commitment or therapy if they are dangerous.
  • There is a difference between involuntary and unintentionial. If you are driving and accidentally run over a pedestrian, that act is unintentional, but it is still voluntary, and therefore it is still blameworthy.