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A Mind to Blame: New Views on Involuntary Acts

Deborah W. Denno

Fordham University School of Law

Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Vol. 21, pp. 601-618, 2003

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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 19

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Date posted: October 21, 2003  

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=458980 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.458980

Contact Information

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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