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Intoxication Defense

There are two types of intoxication defense:

Voluntary Intoxication

When the defendant voluntarily ingests an intoxicating drug or liquor (or both), and thereafter commits a specific intent crime, the defendant might be entitled to either an acquittal of the crime, or a reduction of the crime if he or she can prove that the intoxicants rendered him or her with the inability to form the mental state of mind called specific intent. Whether or not a successful argument of voluntary intoxication nullifies criminal liability, or reduces the criminal charges, depends on the particular crime alleged (Cal Crim No. 3426)

For example, if the defendant successfully argues that he could not form the specific intent to commit the crime receiving stolen property as a result of voluntary intoxication, then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal of the criminal charges. On the other hand, if the defendant successfully argues that he could not form the specific intent to kill another person without legal justification (murder), then the defendant might have the murder charges reduced to manslaughter charges.

Specific Intent: Specific intent means to intentionally or knowingly engage in conduct so as to cause a particular outcome. For example, the crime of assault is a specific intent crime because to commit the crime of assault means to specifically intend to cause another person to fear an imminent harm. Common specific intents crimes subject to a possible voluntary intoxication defense include: Theft, embezzlement, murder, robbery, lewd acts on a minor, burglary, carjacking, check fraud, criminal threats, prostitution, oral copulation, welfare fraud, elder theft, indecent exposure, perjury, murder in the first degree (intent to kill), and more.

Note: There are several different mental states in the criminal law, including negligence, recklessness, willingness, etc., but specific intent means that the defendant meant or intended to commit the illegal conduct.

Compare: The crime of driving under the influence (DUI) is a general intent crime (not a specific intent crime); general intent means that the defendant intended to commit an act but with no particular outcome. In the case of DUI, the defendant does not specifically intends to drive while under the influence, nevertheless, DUI is a crime because the defendant intended to commit the act of driving, but not necessarily while he was driving. Other common general intent crimes include: Battery, domestic battery, vandalism, reckless burning, unlawful use of vehicle, manslaughter, drunk in public, and more.

Evidence of voluntary intoxication is not always a complete defense to a crime. The jury may consider the effects of alcohol on the defendant's ability to form a particular mental state, but the jury does not have to accept the defendant's assertions. However, if the jury finds that the defendant was so intoxicated, even if that intoxication was voluntary, that the defendant could not have formed the particular mental state required to commit a particular crime, then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal or reduction of that criminal charge (depending on the criminal charge).

Murder Cases: Voluntary intoxication may apply if the defendant is found to be so intoxicated at the time of the murder that he could not form the specific intent to kill another person. However, under this situation, murder charges would be reduced to voluntary manslaughter charges, which is a general intent crime.

Also, voluntary intoxication can affect the defendant’s ability to form the mental state of premeditation and deliberation in a first degree murder case. If voluntary intoxication is found to have negated the defendant’s ability to premeditate or deliberate a killing in a first degree murder case then the murder conviction may be reduced to second degree murder because second degree murder does not require the formation of the mental ability to premeditate or deliberate.

Theoretically, voluntary intoxication could be a defense to a non-specific intent crime, but in practice, the defendant would likely need to be rendered unconscious for the defense to apply.

Involuntary Intoxication

If a defendant involuntarily ingests an intoxicating drug or liquor, and thereafter commits a crime, then the defendant is entitled to an acquittal of the criminal charges if he or she can prove that the crime was committed as a result of the effects of the intoxicating drug or liquor (CalCrim No. 3427).

Involuntary means that the defendant did not know that he or she was ingesting a drug or liquor, or that the defendant was physically forced, or threatened with harm to ingest the intoxicating drug or liquor.

The effects of the intoxicating drug or liquor must be severe in order for the defense of involuntary intoxication to apply. Essentially, the intoxicating effect must render the defendant with the inability to understand the nature or quality of the act that he or she is committing, or render the defendant with the inability to understand the difference between right and wrong (similar to the defense of insanity).

The defense of involuntary intoxication cannot be used if the defendant knew that he or she was ingesting an illegal drug or liquor, even if the defendant underestimated the effects of the illegal drug or liquor. Also, the defense of involuntary intoxication does not apply when the defendant knew that he or she was taking an intoxicating liquor or drug but did not know that the intoxicating liquor or drug was different than what the defendant believed he or she ingested.

Note: Chronic intoxication (alcoholism) is not considered involuntary intoxication.

For more information on the defense of voluntary or involuntary intoxication, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal attorneys have successfully handled hundreds of misdemeanor and felony charges in the Inland Empire and Los Angeles County. We are available seven days a week to discuss your rights and defense options. Call today!


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