Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: The Forgotten Defense

When somebody is faced with a serious criminal charge it is the obligation of defense counsel to explore all options and defenses that may be available. In the state of Michigan, the idea of an affirmative defense can often be frowned upon by the trier of fact unless there is a medical condition attached to the argument. One such condition that has flown under the radar for some time is Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS) which is affectionately known as “Sleeping Beauty syndrome” in the field of medicine.

When asked to describe what exactly is KLS or “Sleeping Beauty syndrome” we see an unusual circumstance that is often overlooked by the medical profession. KLS is defined as a rare sleep disorder that is characterized by persistent episodic hypersomnia and a wide array of cognitive changes that can vastly affect the mood of the individual with the disease. To discuss how this issue is addressed in the field of criminal law we spoke to several experienced lawyers that are at the top of their sector to gather their insight.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a law firm that is known as the top criminal defense team throughout the state of Michigan. When asked about Sleeping Beauty syndrome, Grabel was quoted as saying, “It’s truly an outside of the box defense and far too often the condition goes undiagnosed. A patient can have recurrent episodes for more than a decade and then symptoms may not resurface for another decade. When we view this from a criminal defense perspective, we find that a loss of one’s emotions can negate the intent for specific intent crime and even serve as a defense to a strict liability offense. When you view the topic globally, we see a scenario where someone truly has no control over their actions and with that being stated, how can one be prosecuted?”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has done a tremendous amount of research on the defense. McManus stated, “The syndrome can present a situation where the individual could sleep for 20 hours straight and then not know what they did or where they are at. Even an MRI cannot always detect the situation. From a criminal law perspective, if you choose to attack a defense with the syndrome you will need thorough documentation or else you could lose the prosecutor with the argument. KLS is simply not a known topic to the general public and the defense counsel will have to present the issue on a silver platter for an optimal argument.”

Jeremy Tatum is a defense lawyer in Saginaw, Michigan and had a successful career in both social work and the military prior to becoming an attorney. Tatum explained, “Only 1 in 14 million people suffers from this syndrome. It’s amazing how little is known about the topic. In 2016, a Cochrane Review concluded that there is no evidence that pharmacological treatment is safe and effective for Sleeping Beauty syndrome and because of this, help is extremely difficult to find. If the defendant is diagnosed with the syndrome, it will be extremely difficult to present a successful prosecution.”

Grabel added, “Before entertaining the defense you should seek the physician that diagnosed to present an affidavit to the effect that the defendant has in fact suffered from the condition. With the medical support, you can set your client up for the best possible result.”

While the affirmative defense places the burden on defense counsel, a deeper understanding of Sleeping Beauty-syndrome that is supported by medical documentation can lead to the difference between freedom and incarceration of the defendant regardless of the facts presented in court.

William Amadeo is a Senior Associate at Grabel and Associates and a Partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and the CEO of BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan. Amadeo can be reached at

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