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Citation: Woolbridge [2010] NSWCCA 185.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process in New South Wales, (5th edition, Federation Press, 2011), pp. 538-42.


Background facts

  • The accused crossed a median strip and collided head-on with the deceased and her husband (who was left with severe disabling injuries).
  • Th accused had a blood alcohol reading of 0.269 (well, well over the legal limit).
  • She argued sane automatism.
  • At trial, the trial judge refused to allow the jury to consider sane automatism because this was a case of an unhealthy mind reacting to an external factor, as opposed to a sound mind reacting to an external factor as required (test from a case called Radford[1]).


  • The accused argued she suffered a psychological blow due to abusive phone calls from her ex-boyfriend that morning.
  • From the time of the phone call, she went into a dissociative state, and her actions thereafter were involuntary (including her excessive consumption of alcohol).

Legal issues


  • For sane automatism, the accused has an evidentiary burden and then the prosecution needs to disprove it beyond all reasonable doubt. This is usually determined using psychiatric evidence.
  • It is not for the psychiatrists to determine whether the accused was legally responsible for his/her actions - that is for the court. The psychiatrists' duty is to explain the mental condition of the accused.
  • In this case, whilst the phone calls were abusive, they weren't extraordinary. They weren't enough to cause a person of a sound mind to be thrown into a dissociative state (ie, there was not enough of a psychological blow).
  • Rather, the fact that the accused went into a dissociative state merely because of those phone calls shows that she had an unsound mind.
  • Thus, the issue here is of insane automatism, as opposed to sane automatism.
  • The Trial Judge was correct in refusing the jury to consider sane automatism, and the appeal is dismissed.


  1. (1985) 42 SASR 266
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