Is Intoxication a Defense?
With the holiday season in full swing, I thought a quick primer on using intoxication as a defense to drunken shenanigans is in order. Unfortunately, unlike many a college weekend mishap, the “I was drunk” defense rarely succeeds in a court of law.
Technically, only involuntary intoxication is ever a complete defense to a crime in Minnesota. A defendant is not guilty of any crime if his actions were unintentional due to involuntary intoxication. This defense has the following requirements.
First, the defendant was made so mentally deficient by reason of involuntary intoxication, that he did not understand the nature of the act or that it was wrong. This means that he must have failed to know what he was doing or what the consequences of the act would be, or he must have failed to realize that the act was wrong.
Second, one of the following must have been the case:
- The defendant was compelled to take the intoxicating substance against his will.
- The defendant was unaware that because of a particular susceptibility to it, the substance would have a grossly excessive intoxicating effect upon him.
- The defendant was innocently mistaken as to the nature of the substance taken.
- The defendant became unexpectedly intoxicated as a result of taking a medically prescribed drug.
The defendant has the burden of proving each of these requirements by the greater weight of the evidence. This means that he must prove that it is more likely true than not true that each requirement has been proven. If the defendant proves each requirement, he is not guilty of the crime alleged.
However, when a defendant is offering intoxication as an explanation for his actions and a particular intent or other state of mind is a necessary element to constitute a particular crime (e.g., murder, theft, deer shining), voluntary intoxication may be taken into consideration in determining such intent or state of mind. See Minn. Stat. 609.075. The defendant has the burden of establishing intoxication by a fair preponderance of the evidence (more than 50%), but the ultimate burden of proving the element of intent always remains with the State.
Where the crime only requires a general intent, voluntary intoxication cannot be considered. So, think twice before you have that third brandy eggnog before talking to the hotheaded uncle of yours.
Have a safe and Merry Christmas.
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