Criminal Law

Criminal Law Defenses - Intoxication

Many crimes are committed while a defendant is intoxicated. It is not uncommon to hear a defendant claim that he was "too drunk" and didn't know what he was doing. Many people believe that a defendant should pay the price for any wrongs done while intoxicated. The law doesn't look favorably upon defendants who commit crimes while intoxicated; but it can be a defense in certain situations.

Establishing Intoxication as a Defense

Most jurisdictions follow the idea that intoxication isn't a defense to a crime unless it takes away an element of the crime. For example, residential burglary requires an unlawful entry into an inhabited dwelling and a specific intent to commit a felony inside. When facing a charge of residential burglary, an attorney could argue that the intoxication took away the specific intent to commit the crime.

This defense is going to fail more times than it will succeed because most people will believe that intoxication is a condition for which the defendant is responsible. Mere proof that the defendant was intoxicated at the time he committed the crime isn't going to carry any weight. Many jurisdictions will allow the defense if it can be shown that:

  • The defendant was intoxicated at the time of the offense, and
  • The intoxication affected the defendant's mental state so much that his actions were not criminal under the law (in other words, he did not act knowingly, intentionally or negligently)

If the law involves recklessness, the defense will work only upon a showing that:

  • The defendant was intoxicated at the time of the offense,
  • The intoxication was involuntary and
  • The intoxication negated the mental state of recklessness

Some jurisdictions directly address intoxication by stating that intoxication will not be a defense to a crime. Some areas might allow intoxication to negate an element of a crime. It is important to know whether the defense can be used in your jurisdiction.

If intoxication will not stand up as a complete defense to a criminal charge, it can still be a mitigating factor that can decrease the punishment for a crime. Of course, when intoxication is introduced as a defense, the defendant is essentially admitting that he committed the crime. The defense claims that the defendant should be excused based on the circumstances.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does the law in my area recognize the intoxication defense?
  • How does the law look at intoxication when the disease of alcoholism is raised?
  • Have you ever successfully defended a case on the ground of intoxication?
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