“Sleep Driving” a Defense to Strict-Liability DUII in Oregon

Last week the Oregon Supreme Court issued its decision in “State v. Newman”, an appeal whose facts arose from a Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) conviction.

Oregon DUII Auto Accident Injury AttorneysIn the state of Oregon, most cases require that a person act knowingly, negligently, or recklessly in order to be found guilty.  In this case, the defendant was tried for driving under the influence of intoxicants, which is a traffic offense.  Traffic offenses are “strict liability” offenses, which means that no mental state needs to be proven in order for a defendant to be found guilty.

In last week’s decision, the Supreme Court reversed the defendant’s DUII conviction and returned his case to the Court of Appeals for a new trail.  In this new trial, the judge must permit the defendant to provide expert testimony that his driving occurred while he was sleepwalking, which led to “sleep driving.”  The judge had previously excluded such evidence on the basis that DUIIs are strict liability offenses, thus that whether or not the driver was “sleep driving” was irrelevant.

In a surprising decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court, holding that a person must engage in a volitional act before that act can be considered criminal, regardless of whether or not the person has a culpable mental state.  This is a seminal decision because it applies an automatism defense to a crime that had not previously required any mental state.