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Intoxication as a Defense

| Jun 11, 2016 | Criminal Law

When some people have had too much to drink or were under the influence of drugs, they say that they were “not themselves.” That is, that any actions they took while in an intoxicated state were influenced by the drugs or alcohol, and were not something they would usually do. When criminal acts are involved, the intoxicated person may argue that there should be no criminal liability because he or she would not have committed the criminal acts if he or she was not under the influence. While intoxication may work as a defense to some elements of a criminal charge, it cannot be used as a complete defense to a criminal charge.

In order to obtain a conviction in any criminal trial, the prosecution has to prove what are referred to as the elements of the crime. In many cases, this means that the prosecution has to prove that the accused committed the crime with a certain intent or while in a certain state of mind. This is where New York law allows a person to introduce evidence of voluntary intoxication as a defense. Evidence of voluntary intoxication may be introduced whenever relevant to negate an element of the crime, most often specific intent to commit the charged offence. However, it is important to note that voluntary intoxication cannot be used as a defense to a crime which requires a mental state of recklessness.

If the accused chooses to use intoxication as a defense, he or she should present evidence that supports the claim that he or she was intoxicated to such a degree as to affect his or her state of mind.  This could be evidence of the amount of alcohol or drugs consumed, the accused’s usual limit or tolerance, how much he or she had to eat before drinking, the amount of time that passed between the drinking or drug use and the commission of the crime, and the person’s gender and weight. Evidence of just how drunk or high an accused was can make the difference in an intoxication defense because the judge or jury is not likely to accept that the accused was not able to form the intent needed for the charged crime due to intoxication unless they can understand just how affected the accused was by the drugs or alcohol.

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There are some charges for which voluntary intoxication is an element of the crime and can therefore not be used as a defense, such as driving while intoxicated. However, if you were arrested for a crime you committed while intoxicated, there may be a way to argue that the intoxication prevented you from forming the intent required to commit the crime. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation today.