Accused Burglar Beats the Wrap with “I Thought I Was in a Space Station” Defense

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The “Twinkie” and “Affluenza” defenses were not available to Santino Aviles after he was caught rampaging through a San Francisco apartment in the middle of the night, but his lawyer was not without resources.

The attorney for a 41-year-old man charged with robbery, attempted robbery, assault and battery with force serious enough to do bodily injury successfully debuted the “I Thought I Was in a Space Station” defense and came away with a reduced verdict of misdemeanor battery and assault.

Aviles was arrested in May 2014 after convincing tenants in a Mission District building to let him in, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He was asked to leave after trying to access the rooftop. Instead, Aviles climbed on to a fire escape and entered an apartment. He took off his shoes and shirt, and crashed on the couch.

When he came to, he grabbed a backpack and loaded it with items, including an earthquake kit and a woman’s passport. Aviles testified he thought his long hair looked like hers and the document would guarantee his seat on the spaceship he thought was docked atop the space station/apartment building.

At some point he tossed a large exercise ball out on to the fire escape—Plan B, perhaps—upon which he planned to float to another galaxy. That didn’t happen.

The occupants, a man and a woman, awoke and an altercation ensued. 911 was called and the police arrested Aviles, who can be seen muttering about spaceships in a videotaped police interview.

The Public Defender argued in court that Aviles was suffering from methamphetamine-induced psychosis and thought there was a spaceship on top of the apartment building. Aviles said he was being chased and the end of the world was near.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Aviles was grossly overcharged by the authorities: “This was not the act of a violent criminal but a frightened man in the midst of a mental health crisis.”  The jury agreed.  

But the legal community is still wrestling with how to treat those who commit crimes while experiencing meth-induced delusions, paranoia and other misperceptions. University of Southern California psychiatrist Dr. Joseph R. Simpson, speaking on a panel of addiction specialists at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, raised five considerations.

Are delusional meth heads competent to stand trial? Are they able to form the intent to commit a specific crime, like burglary? If their capacity is diminished, can they plan and premeditate a crime? Are they just insane?

They are questions of particular concern in California, where Fresno and the Central Valley are considered to arguably be the “Meth Capital of the World.”   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

S.F. Man’s Winning Robbery Defense: Entered Home to Board Spacecraft (by Hamed Aleaziz, San Francisco Chronicle)

Mission District Astronaut Acquitted for Methed-Out Space Flight Attempt (by Matt Saincome, SF Weekly)

Alleged Robber's “Spaceship” Trip Defense Gets Him Acquitted (by Chris Matyszczyk, C/NET)

Man Who Sought Spaceship Escape Acquitted (by Tamara Aparton, San Francisco Public Defender)

SF Man Acquitted of Apartment Burglary—He Thought He Was in a Spaceship (by David Moye, Huffington Post)

Meth Psychosis Presents Medical, Legal Challenges (by Susan London, Clinical Psychiatry News)

Beyond “Affluenza”: Four More Unusual Defense Strategies (by Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast)

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