Involuntary Crimes, Voluntarily Committed

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Book Chapter

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Voluntariness is fundamental to responsibility. Where it is lacking, a person is not treated as the agent of his own bodily movements. There are several problems with looking back to a prior voluntary act to establish an agent's blameworthiness for his later involuntary conduct. The most significant is the fact that the earlier act and the later act are different acts. The strictness of the act requirement in the criminal law helps to underscore the difficulty with trying to base responsibility on an earlier voluntary act. This chapter explores the typical form in which the voluntary act problem arises in the law: cases in which the defendant anticipated, rather than contrived, his involuntary condition. It considers how what is sometimes called the ‘orthodox approach’ to the criminal law's act requirement handles such cases. A preliminary difficulty that poses special problems for the orthodox approach concerns the role of proximate cause. It proposes the ‘redescriptive test’ as a solution to the causation problem.


criminal law, voluntary acts, involuntary crimes, proximate cause, redescriptive test, responsibility, causation problem, voluntariness, involuntariness

Publication Title

Criminal Law Theory: Doctrines of the General Part