2 min read

Sleep liability

Sleep liability

I was having a discussion recently about ridiculous things people do in their sleep. We covered people who walk in their sleep, talk in their sleep, and even those who behave as one would awake, but under the influence of a deep slumber.

The topic then came up about those who have 'sleep-struck' or in any way assaulted a partner lying next to them. This is where we reached a juncture.

To remain completely neutral from a storyteller and question asker perspective I won't divulge which of the two following opinions was my own.

The set up

The scenario is thus:

  • Two related people lie in a bed.
  • One of the pair physically assaults the other whilst both are sleeping

For this question we must now lay out our assumptions:

  • We must assume both participants are 100% assuredly sleeping.
  • Also we must assume both participants are of sound and clean mind. (No alcohol/drug influence and no prior undiscovered psychological issues)
  • Finally, we must assume that this was an act not caused by pre-existing fasciculation.

The question

Because the couple were sleeping, does this excuse any assault that has taken place? Is this of comparable incidence to 'pleading insanity' or is the assault of one human by another itself grounds for legal repercussions?

One could argue that the assaulter had prior intent and although sleeping was not adverse to the occurrence. If anything, following the event they were glad since being asleep is as good an excuse as any.

Despite sleep being a state of semi-consciousness are we as humans in control of our bodies? Should it be left to the sleeper to account for their actions or is it someone else's responsibility to?

I suppose the true question would be 'Who is liable for the assault?'

Stop value judging

Does the scenario change in your mind if we alter some of the value judgments you, the reader, has already constructed about the two imaginary people in this scenario?

Remember your answer to the previous question and now answer honestly, does your answer change if:

  • The victim was a man and the assaulter was a woman?
  • The victim died as a result of their injuries?
  • Either victim or assaulter was a minor?

Quite often in law the punishment will attempt to reflect the severity of the crime. Compare battery, GBH and '1st degree' murder, all offer increasingly severe adjudication dependent, for the most part, on the crime being seen as more severe. However if the person committing the assault was not even aware they were undertaking such a task, does the severity of the resulting injury come into play at all?

Although not something you would think about every day I challenge you to honestly ask yourself firstly, if you were a judge, how would you rule? Now, sequentially, place yourself in the position of the victim and the assaulter. Ask yourself how you would like the judge to rule.

I know where I stand, tell me where you stand.