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I was drunk when I did that. That’s a defense, right? No.

November 2, 2011

2. Law, 6. Trial

I was drunk when I did that.  That’s a defense, right?  No.

So you did something stupid, probably on a lark.  You busted into somebody’s house, you got touchy-feelly way too much with somebody that said to stop … whatever you did, you were drunk.  You weren’t thinking right.  Alcohol has a way of bringing out bad behavior.  You do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.

You can use that in court, right?  No.  Except in one situation where you’re toast anyway.

Most states have the same law as Pennsylvania.  Here’s PA’s:

Neither voluntary intoxication nor voluntary drugged condition is a defense to a criminal charge, nor may evidence of such conditions be introduced to negative the element of intent of the offense, except that evidence of such intoxication or drugged condition of the defendant may be offered by the defendant whenever it is relevant to reduce murder from a higher degree to a lower degree of murder.

I wrote about Murder here.  The upshot of the above – to reduce murder from a higher degree – is only applicable to reduce Murder 1 to Murder 3.  From the text, you’d think you could reduce Murder 2 to Murder 3, as well, and maybe some case is floating out there that did that, but Murder 2 is a unique beast – it’s Felony-Murder.  The difference from 1 to 3 is more likely to be aligned with intoxication – from an intentional killing down to “all other” murders.  So instead of entertaining death or life, you’re looking at 20 years to life.  Oh, joy!

But did you pick up on the other teensy-weensy possibility of hiding behind this law?  “Voluntary.”  Yes, if you were involuntarily put in the intoxicated or drugged condition, then you can still proffer this defense.  Sure, it happens.  Someone holds you down, pours liquor down your throat, puts you in your car, and sends you on your merry way.  Or you’re drinking milk at the bar and someone spiked it with LSD.  You drive away and start tripping.  As you claw at the thousands of spiders building their nests on your face, your car swerves and a cop pulls you over.  It happens.  I get it.

But it really needs to be perfect.  I mean that you can’t say that you know your legal limit – you drank just one ounce of alcohol an hour (roughly speaking, a beer, a glass of wine, and a shot of liquor all have the same amount of alcohol).  “So, Your Honor,” you continue as you represent yourself, “there is no way I could have tested at 0.12% unless someone was adding alcohol to my drinks without my knowledge.  I was, I respectfully submit, involuntarily intoxicated.”

Best of luck with that.  You’d be just as successful if you claimed that you missed your last spike of heroin.  “In fact, sir,” you claim in court wearing your Sunday-go-to-Meeting clothes, “I know I was unintoxicated whilst at the club because I was withdrawing.  My stomach hurt like a bitch and I was spewing liver bile out my butt!  Someone unknown must have crushed up some Quaaludes and mixed the powder into my favorite drink, Raspberry Ice Tea.”

If you’ve been around drugs or alcohol at any time close to the commission of the crime, the court is going to have a hard time accepting an “involuntary” defense.

In the end result, it is ironic.  Being drunk often results in people acting out.  But for the intoxicant, you probably wouldn’t have done what you did.  Regardless, you’re responsible for your actions.

Think about it.  If the law excused criminal behavior solely due to intoxication, then all criminals would get drunk first.  Do you really want the burglar who is stupid enough to carry a gun just for show to have his cognitive abilities impaired to the point where he might actually use the weapon?

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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