Legal Updates

Culpability: Requirement Of A Voluntary Act

In The State of Pennsylvania, a person is not guilty unless his liability is based on conduct which includes a voluntary act or the omission to perform an act of which he is physically capable.  (18 Pa. C.S. S. 301).  This principle hearkens back hundreds of years to the common law.  A bedrock principle of criminal law is that a defendant should only be guilty, if the defendant has wrongful intent or a mens rea.  The idea is that one should not be punished for what they did not intend to do.  Thus, if the defendant’s act is not voluntary he should not be convicted of a crime. 

For example, if you are driving and have a seizure, lose control of your vehicle, and strike a pedestrian, you should not be convicted of homicide, even if the pedestrian dies.  The seizure and your loss of motor skills was involuntary.  You did not have physical control over yourself or the vehicle.  However, if you knew you were prone to have seizures and drove anyway then you may still be convicted.  Consult with a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer to assess whether the state is able to prove the existence of a voluntary act.  Call the Law Office of Mark D. Copoulos at (267) 535-9776.