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A Mind to Blame: New Views on Involuntary Acts

19 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2003  

Deborah W. Denno

Fordham University School of Law


This article examines the legal implications linked to recent scientific research on human consciousness. The article contends that groundbreaking revelations about consciousness expose the frailties of the criminal law's traditional dual dichotomies of conscious versus unconscious thought processes and voluntary versus involuntary acts. These binary doctrines have no valid scientific foundation and clash with other key criminal law defenses, primarily insanity. As a result, courts may adjudicate like individuals very differently based upon their (often unclear) understanding of these doctrines and the science that underlies them. This article proposes a compromise approach by recommending that the criminal concept of voluntariness consist of three parts: (1) voluntary acts, (2) involuntary acts, and (3) semi-voluntary acts. The semi-voluntary acts category, which is new, incorporates modern ideas of consciousness and also advances the law. Using some actual criminal cases, this article applies this new three-part grouping and demonstrates how it enhances a more just outcome for defendants, victims, and society.

Suggested Citation

Denno, Deborah W., A Mind to Blame: New Views on Involuntary Acts. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Vol. 21, pp. 601-618, 2003. Available at SSRN: or

Deborah W. Denno (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

Fordham University School of Law
150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6868 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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