Is Being Drunk a Defense for Criminal Charges?

Many people know that a person has diminished judgment and capabilities when they are intoxicated. In fact, alcohol has been proven to change the chemistry of the brain. It can impact a person’s mood, behavior, thinking, memory, and physical functioning. In other words, an intoxicated person loses the ability to make the decisions that they would normally make while they are sober. So, if a person was drunk when they committed a crime, can they use it as a defense in a courtroom?

The short answer is no, intoxication cannot be used as a defense against criminal charges. This includes being drunk or under the influence of drugs. It all comes down to voluntary intoxication.

What Is Voluntary Intoxication?

When a person consumes alcohol by choice and becomes drunk, it’s known as voluntary intoxication. If a person chooses to drink, the law assumes that they know that they could become intoxicated if they drink too much. This differs from accidental intoxication that occurs if a person consumes alcohol by force or without knowledge of doing so. Since someone who chooses to drink knows the consequences of having too much alcohol, they are accountable for the criminal activities they commit while drunk.

Intoxication Is Not a Defense in Florida

In 1999, a Florida law ended the use of voluntary intoxication as a defense for crimes. The law states that a person can’t blame their drunkenness for losing control of their decision-making abilities and committing a crime. If a person can prove that they were involuntarily intoxicated, however, they might be able to use intoxication as a defense.

If a person can show that the substance they were intoxicated from was prescribed by a doctor, they might be able to use their state of mind as a defense for committing a crime. However, this defense is more likely with the consumption of drugs instead of alcohol. To use this defense, a person must be able to prove that they took the prescribed dosage and that the drug was the only thing that was causing their altered state of mind.

Mens Rea (Mental State) & Drunk as a Defense

If you’re accused of committing a crime, your mental state may be one of the key issues in determining guilt. This is referred to as your mens rea, which is Latin for “guilty mind.” This is also often referred to as criminal intent. With many criminal offenses, the prosecution must prove intent in order to secure a conviction. An example may be a shopper who accidentally leaves a carton of eggs in the bottom of her grocery cart. She did not intentionally steal the eggs. On the flip side, an example of criminal intent would be a shopper who hides eggs underneath a reusable bag in the bottom of her cart so she can leave without paying for them.

Mens rea is an element of some, but not all, crimes. It can be an important element in securing a conviction for certain offenses, like murder versus manslaughter. Being drunk could directly impact proving criminal intent in such a case. An intoxicated person may have impaired judgment. DUI causing a fatal auto accident is a perfect example. Intentionally running over a person with a vehicle would be murder in most scenarios. Causing a fatal accident while drunk would typically be charged as manslaughter, a lesser offense. This is an example of how being drunk may be a defense, although it would not be proof of innocence in this scenario.

Drunk as a Defense: It Comes Down to Accountability.

Across the U.S., courts and legislators agree that people should, for the most part, be held responsible for their actions—regardless of whether their judgment is impaired. Accountability applies to people in all walks of life, and even to minors. If a defendant intentionally drank alcohol or took drugs and then committed a crime, law enforcement and prosecutors will work hard to hold them responsible for their actions.

It will be up to your criminal defense attorney to determine whether being drunk is a defense against your charges, based on the circumstances at hand. If someone else got you drunk against your will or without your knowledge, this could be a valid defense. If you were intoxicated and therefore did not act with criminal intent to cause harm, this could be a valid defense. It will come down to the details, which a skilled lawyer can use in your favor to help you avoid a conviction and maximum penalties.

Call (813) 221-4200 If You’re Accused of Committing a Crime While Intoxicated in Florida

If you’ve been accused of committing a crime while intoxicated, and want to learn more about whether being drunk as a defense could work in your case, it’s crucial that you call Thomas & Paulk, P.A. as soon as possible. We’re a Tampa criminal defense firm that’s dedicated to making sure Florida residents have the representation they need to protect their future. We’ve helped thousands of people facing criminal charges and are ready to use our experience to pursue the best possible outcome for your case.

Call us now at (813) 221-4200 for a free consultation or fill out our online form now to speak with a member of our team.

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