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The Intoxication Defense (Part two)

Posted by Eric Olson | Feb 18, 2021 | 0 Comments

Part one (link) of our series on the intoxication defense discussed the different types of intoxication defenses and when they can and cannot be used. Now that you have a basic understanding of intoxication as a defense, part two will focus on how the intoxication defense is used in court. 

In order to use intoxication as a defense, the jury must be instructed on intoxication as a defense. However, just because the defendant wants the jury to receive instructions on the intoxication defense, that does not mean that a judge must instruct the jury on the intoxication defense. "If the crime charged has a specific intent as an element and if intoxication is offered by the defendant as an explanation for his actions, then the court must give an instruction on intoxication." State v. Lindahl, 309 N.W.2d 763, 766 (Minn. 1981). I order to receive an instruction on voluntary intoxication, a three-part test must be met. The test is (1) whether the defendant is charged with a specific intent crime; (2) whether there is sufficient evidence to support a jury finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant was intoxicated; and (3) the defendant must offer intoxication as an explanation for his actions. State v. Torres, 632 N.W.2d 609, 616 (Minn. 2001). 

Right off the bat, this means that whether intoxication is available as a defense depends on the crime charged. If the crime charged is one of general intent, our inquiry ends there. However, if a specific intent crime is charged, then we continue on to prongs two and three. The second prong involves a determination of whether there is enough evidence for the jury to conclude that a defendant was, in fact, intoxicated. A jury only needs to find by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant was intoxicated. This means that a jury only needs to believe that it is more likely than not that the defendant was intoxicated. 

A recent unpublished opinion from the Minnesota Court of Appeals addressed the question of whether a jury could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was intoxicated. In State of Minnesota v. Kahn, a case involving a defendant who was charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct and first degree burglary, there was testimony that the defendant was "buzzed" but not "belligerently drunk," "stumbling around," or intoxicated to the point of incoherence. The defendant himself testified that he wasn't intoxicated but had "a little buzz going." The only evidence to suggest intoxication came in the form of testimony that the defendant felt the alcohol "catch up" to him and he felt "woozy."

The Court of Appeals concluded that this was insufficient evidence for a jury to find that the defendant was intoxicated. While this may seem like a mistake, it is important to note that evidence of alcohol consumption and feeling its effects is not necessarily evidence of intoxication. Evidence of alcohol consumption is certainly a factor in favor of a finding of intoxication, but does not require such a finding. 

The Court of Appeals also examined prong three from the above-mentioned test, regarding whether the defendant offered intoxication as an explanation for his actions. See State of Minnesota v. Kahn. The defendant explained that he "would not know" if he had intercourse with the victim because he had no recollection of the events as a result of his intoxication. The Court of Appeals found that the defendant was not entitled to a jury instruction on the intoxication defense because he had failed to meet the third prong of the test. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the test requires that the defendant offer intoxication as an explanation for his actions. However, the defendant here offered evidence of his intoxication as an explanation for why he could not remember his actions. Because the defendant did not offer his intoxication as an explanation for his actions, the Court of Appeals found that he was not entitled to a jury instruction on the intoxication defense. 

In order to successfully present the intoxication defense, a defendant must be charged with a specific intent crime, must show, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that he or she was intoxicated, and he or she must present that intoxication as an explanation for their actions. If you have been charged with a crime, contact Olson Defense at (952) 835-1088, to see if the intoxication defense, or any other defenses are available. 

About the Author

Eric Olson

Eric J. Olson has dedicated his career exclusively to criminal law, with a focus onDWI defense. For the past 16 years, Mr. Olson has developed a reputation in the legal community as an aggressive, compassionate advocate for his clients.

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