How Intoxicated is Too Intoxicated to Commit a Crime?

February 12, 2015

Believe it or not, sometimes when people drink alcohol or take drugs, they do stupid things!  Mind-bottling, I know!  I’m sure most of us have been there: all of sudden you’re 5 shots deep and saying inappropriate things to a stranger (or someone you later wish was a stranger); losing your balance and accidentally pushing someone into a crowd of people (and their drinks); popping off to that person who had the audacity to walk by your significant other as he or she stood in the middle of the only doorway leading out of the pub; or got yourself into an OK Corral type shootout in the city streets…

OK, so hopefully that last one is entirely unrelatable to anyone reading this.  But as we all know, that doesn’t mean intoxicated people don’t commit serious offenses.  It’s common knowledge: alcohol and drugs have the ability to “make” people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.  And that includes committing crimes!  Fortunately the law actually recognizes that, to some extent, by permitting a defendant the opportunity to negate the mental state element of an offense by arguing that he or was far too intoxicated to know what they were doing.

Sweet! So if we all go through life in a constant state of inebriation, we can’t be liable for a damn thing, right?!  Wrong.  And c’mon.  Clearly that’s sarcasm.  If you actually thought that, even for a nanosecond, do me a favor and put my firm’s number in your phone right now; you and I are going to become very close…


But I digress…

Obviously there is no intoxication defense available for a DWI.  In fact, the drunker you are when you commit that offense, the more trouble you could be in.  So that’s clearly out right away.  In fact, ordinary intoxication (the average night out for most of us…hopefully) has little effect on criminal liability for an offense committed in such a state.  In order for the intoxication defense to hold any water, you would have to be so intoxicated that you are unable to form the mental state (i.e., intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or criminally negligent) to commit the offense.  More or less, you’re brain pretty much has to take the night off.

And even if you were 3 sheets to the wind, just saying you were drunk is not enough to reap the benefits of the defense.  To justify even asking the judge for an intoxication charge to the jury, you have to elicit very specific testimony and evidence of your intoxication at trial, e.g., what you drank or what drugs were ingested, how much, over how long a period of time, tolerance, physical condition, provide witnesses or other corroboration, and, ideally, evidence of the disabling effect the alcohol or drugs had on you at the time in question.  Sounds easy, right?  You know better than anyone when you’re derrr-unk, but think about it.  If you and everyone you were with were that drunk, and no one else wants to step up for you, well then that last shot you bought might quickly be turning into the most expensive drink ever purchased.

But ok, let’s say you were “lucky” enough to absolutely annihilate yourself before doing that really stupid and/or dangerous thing that resulted in your eventual arrest. Kudos…? And hot damn, someone is actually able and willing to testify to that for you!  As much as you may want to argue that your crippling hangover is punishment enough for anyone in light of this now impenetrable defense, the prosecutor and the court will regrettably not agree.  More importantly, neither does the law.  Intoxication, if it can be sufficiently demonstrated in the first place, is generally not a fully exculpatory defense but rather a mitigating one…blah blah blah, more legal jargon, yada yada yada, lobster bisque… All that means is that you’re most likely not going to beat the charge outright by pleading intoxication; the best you can usually hope for is a conviction of a lesser included/lower level offense.  This is typical with most intentional crimes since most intentional offenses have a lesser included “reckless” offense, and it could easily be determined that you acted recklessly in getting that drunk or high in the first place; an improvement on your situation for sure, but certainly not a solution.

An intoxication defense should never be your entire defense if that situation can be avoided. But there are many fact patterns when that is the only defense available, so it must be pursued diligently and competently.  And sometimes it can mean the difference between a felony and several years in prison or a misdemeanor sentence of time served!  But please be advised that this article merely touches upon the nuances and complications involved in pursuing an intoxication defense.  So if you have been charged with a crime and believe your intoxication may be at issue, call the experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at Catalano & Carpenter LLP today at (845) 454-1919 for a free consultation.

It’s hard enough to remember the night-before the next day.  Don’t lose more important details by waiting to call us.  You’re liberty could depend on it.