Is Intoxication a Defense to a Crime?

Many people engage in behavior that they never would normally engage in while they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Does intoxication by alcohol or controlled substances excuse someone from criminal liability?

The short answer is no. Generally, voluntary intoxication does not excuse criminal conduct, even in a situation where the person might otherwise have never committed the crime. However, there are certain circumstances where involuntary intoxication can be a defense that absolves someone from criminal liability.

Involuntary intoxication is when someone is forced to consume an intoxicant (drugs or alcohol) against their will. This might happen in a situation where someone is forced to consume an intoxicating substance or someone is tricked into consuming an intoxicating substance.

It is a fairly rare situation where someone is forced to consume a substance against their will, or unknowingly consumes an intoxicating substance. In situations where this occurs, however, if the intoxication causes the person to lack the substantial capacity to either appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law, then it may be an affirmative defense to the crime that the defendant was legally insane at the time the he or she committed the acts constituting the offense.

Involuntary intoxication is really just a type of insanity defense. In order to present a defense of insanity, the defense is required to provide notice to the prosecution of their intent to seek a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. In order to prove such a defense when the reason for asserting insanity is involuntary intoxication, it will be necessary to present expert testimony.

In a situation where you are presenting a defense of involuntary intoxication, it will likely be necessary to present testimony from multiple experts. First, you’ll need testimony from a forensic psychiatrist or forensic psychologist to discuss whether, based on the information known, the defendant was able to appreciate the nature and quality of the wrongfulness of his or her conduct, or whether they were able to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law. A forensic psychiatrist is probably preferable in a situation where you are dealing with intoxicating substances, because of their medical training.

Second, you’ll likely need an expert to testify about the impact of the substance, whether it is alcohol or a controlled substance, that was consumed by the defendant. This could potentially be a toxicologist or a pharmacologist. When you combine the testimony of a pharmacological expert with that of a forensic psychiatrist, they can assist the jurors with tying together the substance that was unknowingly consumed by the defendant and the behavior that the defendant engaged in when committing the crime.

Presentation of an involuntary intoxication defense is difficult, and is rarely successful. To be successful, it takes significant resources, both in presentation of experts, as well as presentation of the defendant’s history and the events surrounding the commission of the crime. If you think you or a loved one may have committed a crime as a result of involuntary intoxication, it is important that you contact an attorney with experience in this area.

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