Intoxication as a defense to criminal charges.

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and former wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was recently acquitted in New York of the crime of impaired driving. It was alleged that she operated her motor vehicle while under the influence of a generic form of Ambien, a prescription sleep aid. In Michigan, we have a similar statute prohibiting impaired driving.

MCL 257.625(3) provides that:

A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state when, due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, the person’s ability to operate the vehicle is visibly impaired.

In situations where a person has been found to be driving or causes an accident, and is found to have an intoxicating substance in their system (whether prescribed or not), these cases can be difficult to defend.

Ms. Kennedy, however, was successful in defending herself by asserting a defense of involuntary intoxication. She asserted that before she left her home on the morning of her accident, she grabbed the wrong prescription bottle, and inadvertently took Ambien instead of her regular prescription that morning. Her attorneys asserted at trial that because Ms. Kennedy did not purposefully take an intoxicating substance, she should not be found guilty of the crime. The jurors, after deliberating for an approximately 70 minutes, sided with Ms. Kennedy and found her not guilty of impaired driving.

We frequently get questions about the impact of intoxication on a case. Like in Ms. Kennedy’s case, involuntarily intoxication can provide a successful defense. Where a defendant has not intentionally consumed an intoxicating substance, and they commit an act that they would not otherwise have committed, this type of defense can at times be very helpful in obtaining an acquittal.

Voluntary intoxication, however, is quite different. While voluntary intoxication can certainly have an impact on how we might approach a client’s defense, it generally does not provide a complete defense to a crime. Michigan law presumes that when you intentionally ingest a controlled substance or alcohol, that you are responsible for the behavior that you engage in during the time that you are affected by the intoxicating substance. Many people behave differently while intoxicated than they might behave while sober; however, the law does not provide this as a valid defense to the crime.

On the other hand, issues regarding intoxication should never be ignored, even if they involve voluntary intoxication. There are times when those issues can help mitigate the crime that occurred and can be helpful in argument to a jury or in convincing the prosecuting attorney to provide a good plea offer.

If you have been charged with a crime involving either involuntary or voluntary intoxication, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Blanchard Law at (616) 773-2945 for a consultation.

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