There are many strange psychological conditions out there, particularly when it comes to sleep disorders. In fact, many people have been known to commit crimes in their sleep, ranging from driving under the influence all the way to murder. A particularly disturbing sleep condition is that of sexsomnia, in which the sleeper does a variety of sexual behaviors in their sleep, none of which are remembered the following day when he or she wakes up. This condition has been increasingly blamed for sex crimes committed by people at night and the defense is as complicated as it is problematic for all involved.
What is Sexsomnia?
The same way that some people sleepwalk to the kitchen and eat a whole pie in their sleep, some people engage in sexual behaviors ranging from masturbation all the way through sexual intercourse. Like those who eat, drive or jog in their sleep, the person with the disorder doesn’t remember doing any of these activities when they wake up and they may not even be aware of the condition at all until someone else makes them aware of their behaviors.
Symptoms of sexsomnia may include a person dry humping, masturbating, fondling another person, having intercourse, orgasming while still asleep. While their eyes may be open, they will usually appear glossy and vacant and the individual will not be aware of their behaviors upon waking up. Partners of those with the condition will often notice the person’s sexual behavior is more aggressive when his or her inhibitions are down while asleep. While both men and women may have this condition, it seems to be three times more common in men and women with the disorder tend to self pleasure rather than involving others.
Sexsomnia as a Defense to Sex Crime Charges
This disorder is particularly problematic when it results in non-consensual sexual interactions because while the victim has undoubtedly been violated, the person behind the assault did not consciously violate anyone, and thus, can’t be held responsible. In order for someone to be guilty of most crimes, especially rape and other sex crimes, they must be in control of their brain and body. If a defendant is unconscious and did not act willfully, they did not commit a crime.
These cases can be difficult for everyone involved. Though there may be ample forensic evidence to show the parties involved did have intercourse, the prosecutor may struggle to prove to find evidence that the suspect was not suffering from sexsomnia, such as behaviors that might indicate the defendant was aware of his behavior and acting willfully. The defense attorney will need to provide additional proof to convince an attorney that the client is suffering from the condition. The defendant may feel guilt over doing in his sleep something he would never have done while awake. And the victim will question whether or not she may be working to convict someone who really didn’t know what he was doing.
Not Everyone Should Attempt This Defense
While many people accused of rape or other sex crimes may immediately be inclined to attempt this defense after hearing about it, it’s worth noting sexsomnia is not a good defense for all cases. Prosecutors are unlikely to drop or reduce these charges without strong medical evidence for the condition, which few people have and jurors tend to be skeptical when defendants argue they suffer from a rare medical condition that eliminates their responsibility for a real wrong.
Like all criminal defenses, it is best to speak with your defense attorney before talking to the police or even the victim about what happened or you may say something that could harm your defense later. While most people with this condition will lack a prior medical diagnosis, they will almost always have a record of this type of behavior. So someone attempting to mount this defense will usually have ex-girlfriends or friends who may testify to the the defendant’s history of groping, masturbating or doing pelvic thrusts in their sleep -or even just more traditional sleepwalking experiences.
Additionally, there are some factors that may increase the likelihood of a sexsomnia episode, such as alcohol use, anxiety, certain medications (particularly sleep aids like Ambien) and sleep deprivation. Evidence that one or more of these factors was affecting the defendant could further strengthen the case for a sexsomnia episode. A good criminal lawyer attempting to mount this defense on behalf of his client will also consult with an expert on sleep disorders who will be willing to testify that the defendant is likely to suffer from this condition.
Obviously sexsomnia is not a defense applicable to many people who have been accused of rape charges, but the fact remains that there are a world of defenses to sex crimes and the best option is to speak to your attorney before deciding on the right defense for your case. If you have been accused of a sex crime, please call Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation where you can discuss your best defense option.