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State v. Utter

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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State v. Utter
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    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant Utter stabbed and killed his son. He claims to have no recollection of the murder, as it was committed after the Defendant had consumed alcohol and allegedly killed by a “conditioned response.”

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An “act” committed during unconsciousness is not voluntary, and therefore one cannot be held criminally culpable for said act. However, voluntarily induced unconsciousness, such as by drugs or alcohol, is not a complete defense.

    Facts. The Defendant and his son had been living together at the time of the killing. The son entered his father’s apartment on the date in question, and shortly thereafter, he was heard to say, “Dad, don’t.” He was later seen stumbling into the hallway of the apartment building, and before he died, he said, “Dad stabbed me.” The Defendant had served in the armed forces and was honorably discharged. He testified that on the date in question, he began drinking in the morning. The Defendant remembers drinking with a friend of his and waking up in jail, but he does not remember anything in between. At trial, the Defendant sought to introduce evidence of “conditioned response,” which his expert defined as an act done automatically in response to a certain stimulus. The trial court ruled that this was no defense and instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. The jury convicted the Defendant of manslaughter, and he appealed to the court rendering this opinion, the Court of Appeals of W
    ashington.

    Issue. Did the trial court properly instruct the jury to disregard evidence regarding the defendant’s “conditioned response” defense?

    Held. Yes. Homicide is defined as “the killing of a human being by the act


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