When Can Intoxication Be Used as a Defense in a Criminal Case?

In California, this defense can only be used in limited circumstances. The California legislature and the law controlling criminal cases in San Fernando Valley is certainly not going to allow someone to become intoxicated and commit crimes at will.

The intoxication defense can successfully be used if a person is charged with a specific intent crime. An example of one of the limited times voluntary intoxication can be used in a criminal case relates to a person charged with attempted murder.

The prosecutor must prove that person could form a specific intent to kill. If the defendant were too intoxicated to do that, the prosecutors would not prove attempted murder. One important distinction to make in an intoxication defense case is between voluntary intoxication and involuntary intoxication. In other words, if somebody slipped something in another person's drink, causing them to become intoxicated and that person does something illegal, they would have an excellent defense.

If, on the other hand, someone of their volition drinks a bunch of alcohol, gets in a car, and kills someone, they would have a much more difficult time trying to use intoxication to defend themselves. The intoxication defense is usually not a very good defense when it comes to a criminal case.  The legislature will not let people get away with crimes just because they got themselves intoxicated.

Specific Intent Crimes

One area, though, is an excellent defense when you're talking about specific intent crimes.  In other words, the person had to form the clear intent to do something related to the particular crime. Still, because they were so drunk, high on drugs, or whatever intoxicant, they would not form that specific intent, so that person would have to be pretty out of it to be able to assert that defense.

Because remember, the temptation is — the judge, the prosecutors, and even juries — they don't want to give someone a free pass just because they got themselves intoxicated somehow and committed a crime.

Where I see it as an effective defense — again, depending on the circumstances — you have to have some mitigating factors in your favor — is related to an attempted murder charge because, with attempted murder, you have to be able to form the specific intent to kill. If you can't form that intent because you're so drunk or high, whatever the case may be, then you certainly might have a viable defense there.

But I think in combination with that viable intoxication defense, you've got to have some facts that make it look good for you.  In other words, you get into an argument.  Maybe the other person is being too aggressive, you, because you're drunk, go too far, shoot the person, for example, but you didn't intend to kill them, or you couldn't form that specific intent to kill.

Negotiate Charges to a Lesser Crime

Now, another exciting thing about this intoxication defense is that you're usually looking at some other crime.  It usually just mitigates things down.  Like it will mitigate down an attempted murder where you're looking at fifteen to live, down to some other crime like attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon which is a general intent crime.

So, often you're not entirely getting off just because you're able to assert the intoxication defense in a case in the San Fernando Valley.  Usually, you will get some lesser general intent crime where intoxication cannot be a defense to that particular crime. Therefore, if you did something criminal, you're going to be held responsible for it.

So, if you're thinking, do I have a defense here because I was so high, I was so drunk, you're going to need to sit down with a criminal defense lawyer — someone that can look at all the facts of your case.

Then we can say, okay, here's what I think a jury would do under your circumstances. Then once you have that conversation, you're really in a position to know whether the intoxication defense in a criminal case makes sense for you or whether it just simply is not going to work. You need to take some other route — whether by some plea negotiation or some other defense or angle that can get you off the case if that's what your goal is in your criminal matter.

In these types of cases, they turn on the specific facts of the particular case. Therefore, your best approach is to sit down with a seasoned criminal defense attorney and go over your case step-by-step; that way, you can get an accurate indication of what can and cannot be done.