Whether it be a silly prank, or something more serious, many people have attempted to explain their behavior with the excuse, "I was drunk." While this excuse may work to explain away mundane or embarrassing behavior, when is it sufficient to defend against a criminal charge?
To begin a discussion of the intoxication defense, it is important to first note what it means. The intoxication defense is generally used to show that a defendant did not understand what they were doing due to intoxication. The intoxication defense is available in two forms; involuntary intoxication and voluntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication happens when someone is forced or fooled into consuming drugs and/or alcohol. Voluntary intoxication happens when someone purposefully consumes drugs and/or alcohol.
In order to understand when intoxication can be used as a defense, it is first necessary to understand two different types of crimes. Specific intent crimes refers to crimes where the defendant must have had a specific intent to commit the crime in question. Offenses like assault generally require an intent to cause bodily harm to someone. As a result, these are specific intent crimes. General intent crimes are the opposite of specific intent crimes. They do not require any specific intent, only an unlawful act.
Involuntary intoxication can be a good defense to specific intent crimes. This is done by showing that, due to intoxication, a defendant was unable to form the necessary intent. For example, if someone appears to have committed an assault, but, due to intoxication, was unable to form the specific intent to cause harm, then they would have a defense to the charge.
It is more difficult to use involuntary intoxication as a defense to general intent crimes. In order for the defense to be available, a defendant must be able to show that, as a result of intoxication, they did not understand the nature of their actions or were incapable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult burden to meet.
As a general rule, it is much more difficult to use voluntary intoxication as a defense. The defense is only available in certain situations and juries tend not to be as receptive to the intoxication defense when a defendant brought intoxication upon themselves. Voluntary intoxication cannot be used as a defense to general intent crimes. It can, however, be used as a defense to a specific intent crime.
For example, burglary generally requires breaking and entering into a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime therein. Someone who is intoxicated may be able to break and enter, but may not be able to form the intent to commit a crime once inside. In such a situation, voluntary intoxication may be used as a defense to a charge of burglary.
It is important to note that intoxication is a complex defense that can only be used under certain circumstances. Olson Defense has the knowledge and experience to help determine whether intoxication, or any of a number of other defenses, are available to you. If you have been charged with a crime, contact Olson Defense at (952) 835-1088.