When is intoxication a defence for criminal offences? (Legal Q&A)

by ContactLaw on January 31, 2012

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intoxication legal defencesIntoxication in general is not allowed as a defence under the criminal law; if this was the case then a person could imbibe alcohol or take drugs before committing an offence and use intoxication as a defence. However, intoxication can be a defence in some circumstances, for example as part of the defence of automatism.

In some cases, intoxication is the reason for the offence, for example if a person is found drunk in a public place, or drunk in charge of a vehicle. In other cases it may be that the intoxication causes the person to commit an offence or takes away the necessary intention to commit the offence. Whatever the reason, the criminal law cannot allow voluntary intoxication to be used as a general defence although involuntary intoxication is a different matter. A person may become involuntarily intoxicated by having a drink laced or taking prescribed drugs, this will negate the intent for specific intent offences and basic intent offences.

The only way that voluntary intoxication can be used as a defence is to negate the necessary mens rea (Latin for ‘guilty mind’) required for a person to be convicted of a crime. Even where the offence requires mens rea, voluntary intoxication will only be relevant where the offence is one of specific, rather than basic intent. Specific intent offences include offences such as murder, robbery, grievous bodily harm with intent, and attempt. Basic intent offences include manslaughter, rape, criminal damage, and assault offences.

When a person avoids conviction for a specific offence, there will usually be a basic intent offence that can be used against the person instead. So if a person avoids conviction for murder because they lack the necessary intent, they may still be convicted of manslaughter and if a person avoids the offence of causing grievous bodily harm, they can still be convicted of malicious wounding. Although this may seem like an easy way out, if a defendant claims intoxication at the beginning of their trial, then the prosecution will not be required to prove mens rea and they will only need to show that the act was committed.

For further legal advice on intoxication and its place in criminal law, you can speak to a criminal lawyer (fill out the form to the top right of your screen). They can assess your situation and determine if intoxication can form part of your defence.

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  • http://www.mortons-solicitors.co.uk Mortons

    Nice article. I would point out, because various clients have mentioned this in the past just because clients cannot recall (or say they can’t recall) the incident due to intoxication is not a defence.

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