Involuntary Acts and Criminal Liability

Jeffrie G. Murphy

Arizona State University College of Law


Ethics, Vol. 81, p. 332, 1971

Criminal law does not hold individuals responsible for involuntary actions, where there is not the necessary actus reus. The uniting principle behind this limitation, however, is not in itself very philosophically illuminating. This article addresses exactly in what this lack of control consists and how it differs from the lack of control over consequences which one failed, nonnegligently, to foresee, which may count as a part of a voluntary act. It concludes that when an act is involuntary, when it is explained by causal reference to factors which eliminate normal capacities, the agent drops out. For example, if a defendant was having a seizure, our temptation will be to cite his seizure and not him as the cause, but yet we cannot hold seizures criminally liable. Our ordinary notions of responsibility thus rest upon agent causation. When the causation is not agent causation, the ordinary notions have no application.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 11

Keywords: Actus Reus, Causation, Criminal Law

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Date posted: September 9, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Jeffrie G., Involuntary Acts and Criminal Liability (1971). Ethics, Vol. 81, p. 332, 1971. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1469732

Contact Information

Jeffrie G. Murphy (Contact Author)
Arizona State University College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-5856 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)
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