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Name: People v. James
Case #: A139463
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 07/14/2015

Reversal was required where court refused instruction on unconsciousness as a defense and there was ample evidence that defendant suffered a psychotic episode and was unaware of his actions. James was charged with aggravated mayhem and assault for an attack on a victim. The evidence included testimony that appellant was incoherent, acting very bizarre, and unable to comply with police orders at the time of his arrest. A defense expert testified that James suffered a severe psychotic episode at the time of the incident and that he did not have an awareness of what took place. Although James was a drug user, the expert did not think he was suffering from a substance-induced psychotic disorder. The trial court refused James’ request for an instruction on unconsciousness as a defense (CALCRIM No. 3425). The jury found James guilty of mayhem and assault producing great bodily injury. In a bifurcated sanity proceeding, it found him not guilty by reason of insanity. On appeal, James argued that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct on unconsciousness. Held: Reversed. Unconsciousness is a complete defense to both general and specific intent crimes. However, if the unconsciousness was the result of voluntary intoxication, then it is only a defense to specific intent crimes. Previously, the defense was limited to people of “sound mind” and the defenses of insanity and unconsciousness were mutually exclusive. Here, the Court of Appeal reviewed various cases addressing the unconsciousness defense and concluded that the defense applies regardless of whether the actor’s mental state of unconsciousness is induced by “unsound mind,” including that caused by mental illness. The failure to instruct on unconsciousness was prejudicial in this case because there was evidence that James was unaware of his actions and acted in an unconscious state.