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Intoxication and Criminal Liability

Intoxication and Criminal Liability

Being intoxicated is not necessarily a defence to a crime however if a person is in fact intoxicated, depending on the level, they may not form the required mens rea of the crime. Most often, being drunk acts as more of an aggravating factor rather than a mitigating factor as it is in the public’s best interest to disallow someone from escaping criminal liability simply because they were drunk. Thus, the law has formulated rules to strike the balance between who should be held criminally responsible or not. There is a distinction in the law between voluntary intoxication and involuntary intoxication.

Involuntary intoxication

In this case, a person involuntarily becomes intoxicated. This can happen through either food or a spiked drink without their knowledge. One can only be excused for criminal sanction if it can be proved that they lacked the mens rea of the offence. (R v Kingston)

Voluntary intoxication

Voluntary intoxication is when a person voluntarily puts themselves in that position that they are not capable of forming the mental element of the crime. The law in this area is less forgiving. There are two different distinctions, crimes of basic intent and crimes of specific intent. (DPP v Beard, DPP v Majewski)

DPP v Majweski (1976)
DPP v Majweski (1976)
The Defendant became aggressive and assaulted a barman after taking drugs and alcohol. Police officers was called to the scene. The Defendant said tha

1. Crimes of Specific Intent

This is where the offence can only be committed intentionally or if there is an ulterior intent. For example this may cover, murder or grievous bodily harm, or criminal damage with the intention on endangering life. If the crime is categorised as such, the defendant can rely on intoxication as a way to show that they lacked the mens rea of the offence.

2. Crimes of Basic Intent

When a defendant relies on basic intent due to intoxication, they cannot rely on their intoxicated state because they lack the mens rea of the crime at hand. This kind of crime can be categorised as either assault, battery, grievous bodily harm under section 20 or actual bodily harm

Intoxication and Dutch Courage

If a person forms the intention to commit a crime and then becomes intoxicated in order to carry the crime out, they cannot claim that intoxication prevented them from forming the mens rea of the crime. This is called “Dutch Courage” because the only way they will actually carry out the crime is if they are intoxicated.(Attorney General for NI v Gallagher)

Intoxication in conjunction with another defence

Mistake: Generally not a defence to a crime of basic intent unless a statute provides a limited defence based on a genuine belief the mistake may be relied on even if the mistake was induced by voluntary intoxication.

Self -defence

A defendant, under mistaken belief that they are under attack and acting on self-defence cannot rely on such if it was induced by voluntary intoxication. This applies to both specific and basic intent.

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