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Is Intoxication a Defense to Criminal Charges?

Posted on May 26, 2021 in Criminal Defense

People often make mistakes or do things they otherwise wouldn’t do when impaired by drugs or alcohol. Intoxication could make someone more likely to start a fight at a bar, for example, and physically assault someone. Voluntary intoxication is generally not a usable defense in a criminal case. Involuntary intoxication, however, could be used as a defense in limited circumstances. Find out if this is a potential defense in your case by consulting with an attorney.

What Is Intoxication?

Intoxication refers to mental incapacity due to the effects of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications. If someone is intoxicated, he or she is physically and/or mentally impaired. Intoxication can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, disorientation, lack of judgment, poor decision-making and recklessness.

Can Intoxication Be Used as a Defense?

To prove someone guilty of a crime in Arizona, it is necessary to establish intent to commit the crime, in most cases. When brought up in criminal law, intoxication is a defense that asserts that the defendant’s mental state made him or her unable to form the intent to commit a crime. Intoxication may be a defense against intent based on the argument that the defendant’s level of impairment took away his or her mental capacity, ability to differentiate between right and wrong, and intent to commit a crime – and that the defendant should, therefore, not be held liable for his or her actions.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Intoxication

The intoxication defense argues that the defendant could not understand or recognize the wrongfulness of his or her acts when committing a crime due to his or her level of impairment, and that this means the defendant should not have to face the consequences of the criminal act. For the most part, this defense can only be raised if it refers to involuntary intoxication.

Arizona law distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary intoxication. Involuntary intoxication is the unknowing or unintentional consumption of drugs or alcohol, caused by deception or force. If the defendant has evidence proving that he or she was involuntarily intoxicated when he or she committed a crime, this could be a usable defense to avoid a criminal conviction, since the defendant was not responsible for his or her level of impairment.

Voluntary intoxication, on the other hand, occurs when someone knowingly consumes an intoxicating substance, such as intentionally ingesting alcoholic drinks or taking an impairing drug. Voluntary intoxication generally is not a usable defense since the defendant is the one responsible for his or her state of impairment. The Supreme Court has ruled that states may elect to bar the voluntary intoxication defense, and many have chosen to do so.

Specific vs. General Intent

Whether or not a defendant can use the intoxication defense may also depend on the type of criminal charge. There are specific intent crimes and general intent crimes. A specific intent crime requires proof that the defendant intended the specific consequences of an illegal act. For example, convicting a defendant of first-degree murder typically requires evidence that the defendant had the specific intent to kill the victim, along with premeditation and deliberation.

A general intent crime, on the other hand, only requires proof that the defendant had the general intent to commit the crime; not necessarily that the defendant intended the specific consequences of the crime. Intoxication may be used as a defense in a case involving a specific intent crime, since mental incapacity could be used to argue that the defendant did not have specific intent. However, it is typically not usable as a defense to a general intent crime.

Each Case Is Unique – Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

How the courts handle the criminal defense of intoxication depends on many factors, including state laws, the specifics of the case, the type of crime charged and the evidence available. To learn more about the intoxication defense and whether it is a usable strategy in your case, consult with a Phoenix criminal attorney in Arizona. An experienced defense lawyer can create a tailored defense strategy based on the unique facts of your case for the best possible outcome.