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Intoxication as a defense to criminal charges

California residents may know that individuals accused of committing crimes sometimes mount a defense based on diminished capacity. While drug use and alcohol consumption can clearly impact behavior and decision making, they may not always be seen as a valid criminal defense. In these situations, the most important question is often whether or not the individual concerned had become intoxicated voluntarily.

Intoxication may be considered involuntary, and therefore a legitimate defense to criminal charges, if people were given intoxicating substances without their knowledge or consumed the substances knowingly but were not aware that they would have an intoxicating effect. Intoxication may also be seen as involuntary if the individual concerned was compelled to drink or take drugs. A less common form of involuntary intoxication is known as pathological intoxication, which occurs when alcohol or drugs have a disproportionately severe intoxicating effect.

The level of the defendant's intoxication will also be taken into consideration when these arguments are made in a criminal court. For involuntary intoxication to be a complete defense, it must be established that the defendant was impaired to the point where they would be considered legally insane at the time of the illegal act in question. This means that they were unable to prevent themselves from committing the crime or were unable to tell right from wrong.

Criminal defense attorneys may avoid arguments concerning involuntary intoxication unless the facts clearly support such a strategy. Juries may be unsympathetic toward defendants who admit wrongdoing but claim that they are not responsible because they were drunk or on drugs at the time, and evidence that their intoxication was involuntary could be received with a great deal of skepticism. However, attorneys may vigorously pursue this strategy in cases where the involuntary nature of their client's intoxication is evident.

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