Alcoholism As A Defense For Crimes Committed

Many criminal offenders are serving time because of one crucial mistake; they let alcohol or drugs drive their actions. Statistically, up to 37% of all violent crimes reported by the Department of Justice had alcohol as a factor. With this knowledge, courts may sometimes consider intoxication as a viable defense to your criminal charges. Drunkenness while committing a crime is a sure get out of jail card. But there are some circumstances, especially in involuntary intoxication, where the court can rule in your favor. This article will explain more about how your defense team can use intoxication as a defense to beat criminal charges.

The element of “mens rea” or intent

Offenders have often argued that they should not be held 100% responsible because they were not entirely in control of their actions while drunk. To be convicted of a crime in California, prosecutors must show that the defendant had criminal intent when committing the act. In other words, prosecutors must prove that you were aware that your actions were criminal in nature. While intoxication as a defense can be a winner in some cases, it also depends on the type of intent required by the law to convict the defendant of the crime. In the legal field, crimes can have either one of two types of intent; general intent or specific intent. 

Most crimes require the element of general intent to be present before making a conviction. In general intent, prosecutors need only prove that the defendant meant to do a criminal act. However, the law does not require the prosecution to show that the defendant intended to act’s result. For example, battery is a general intent crime. If a defendant intends to cause harmful physical contact, the intent element is satisfied. The prosecution doesn’t need to prove that the defendant intended to hurt the victim. 

On the other hand, specific intent crimes require that the defendant intended to do a criminal act AND cause a particular result of the act. For instance, aggravated battery is defined as the intentional harmful physical contact against another with the intent to inflict serious bodily injury. Thus, specific intent in this context required the defendant to cause harmful contact and do so with the aim of causing physical injury.

Apart from the type of intent, intoxication as a defense can also depend on whether it was voluntary or involuntary.

Involuntary intoxication

Involuntary intoxication simply occurs when someone has been tricked into or forced to consume alcohol or drugs. The best thing about this defense is that you can’t be found guilty of a crime you committed while you were involuntarily intoxicated. California’s Penal Code 26 mandates that no one is guilty of a crime they committed if they did it without being conscious.

This defense can only be used if:

  • You consumed alcohol or drugs without knowing you were doing so
  • Somebody forced or tricked you into consuming alcohol or drugs

If charged with a crime of specific intent, involuntary intoxication can be used as a complete defense because the defendant does not satisfy the intent element. Legally, the defense team can argue that the defendant did not understand the nature of his/her actions. 

Voluntary intoxication

Voluntary intoxication as a defense is much harder to pass in court because most people consume alcohol voluntarily. This also means that they’re aware of alcohol’s intoxicating effects. Voluntary intoxication can be a defense to certain specific intent crimes but can never be used as a defense to a general intent crime. If charged with a specific intent crime, the jury can consider your intoxication as evidence.  Your defense attorney can try to show that you lacked the criminal intent to commit the crime. For instance, voluntary intoxication can be used in a burglary case. The defendant can argue that he was so intoxicated that he was incapable of forming an intent to commit the crime therein. While voluntary intoxication doesn’t eliminate criminal liability, it can certainly help reduce the overall culpability of the crime. 

Determining whether a crime lack intent can be tricky in most defense cases. In addition, courts typically don’t consider involuntary intoxication as a defense for alcoholics who tend to use it. Only with the help of a strategic and experienced defense firm can your case stand a winning chance. 

If you or someone you know needs help with using intoxication as a legal defense, we invite you to contact us at Criminal Defense Heroes. To learn more about when we advise rehab, see our article Would You Advise A Client To Enter A Drug Or Alcohol Program Or Begin Counseling?  and Can a Mental Health Diversion help with your Criminal Case? We provide a free case evaluation so we can strategize on the best possible approach to your case. Call us now at (323) 529-3660 or chat with us online to receive immediate help.