Psychiatric expert testimony is challenging in cases of violence when the accused person submits a defence that
he or shewas so overwhelmed by emotions triggered by an upsetting event that his or her violent behaviourwas
an uncontrollable consequence of the emotions. This defence is usually presented in terms of an automatismparticularly
not attributed to a mental disorder. Clouding testimony in these cases is the various definitions of both
automatism and mental disorder—definitions by which the jurisprudential distinction is made between a sane
and an insane automatism, or pathological and non-pathological incapacity (NPCI).
To avert testimony that is tainted from the very beginning by the lack of agreed definitions, this article proposes
that psychiatrists focus in their assessment and testimony on particularly the behaviour as being distinct fromthe
jurisprudential concernswhether that behaviour constitutes an automatism andwhether it is (not) attributed to
a mental disorder. This focus on the behaviour affords clarity by which the properties of the behaviour may be
examined theoretically and clinically in terms of behaviour therapy, specifying accordingly its antecedents,
consequences, topography, intensity, latency, duration, frequency, and quality.
So informed, the behaviour that underpins NPCI and automatism is described here as emotionally triggered
involuntary violent behaviour about which testimony may be given distinct from whether the behaviour is
(not) causally attributed to a mental disorder, and from jurisprudential concerns with accountability.