Anyone who has overindulged in alcoholic beverages understands that highly intoxicated people sometimes make stupid decisions. After a night of drinking, otherwise reserved people may end up dancing on table tops or starting a bar fight. While most people wake up from these nights with no greater consequences than a headache and some lingering regret, others have had the unfortunate experience of committing a crime or injuring another person while intoxicated. If this occurs, is being a highly intoxicated a defense?
Whether or not a person's involuntary intoxication will affect his or her case depends on the type of crime with which he or she is charged. In order to be convicted of any type of crime, the prosecution must prove every element of each particular offense. If one element is missing, that person cannot be found guilty. For instance, Section 240 of the California Penal Code defines a battery as, "[A]ny willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another." Under this statute, prosecutors trying a person for battery must prove several different elements:
- The accused person used force or violence,
- Against another human being,
- The use of force was willful, and
- The use of force was unlawful.
Without the presence of each of these elements, a person cannot be found guilty of a crime. For example, surgeons purposely use force to cause injury to their patients every day. However, they are not guilty of battery because their conduct is not unlawful. When patients consent to the surgical procedures, that element of the charge is removed and there is no crime. Interestingly, when surgeons are negligent and cause injuries by operating on the wrong patient or the wrong body part, they can sometimes be charged with criminal battery. Because the patient did not consent to the surgeon's malpractice, their use of force becomes unlawful and all of the elements of the charge apply.
The elements of a crime become an issue when a person wants to use high intoxication as a defense to his or her actions. Some types of crimes are known as "specific intent" crimes, which require prosecutors to prove that a person not only committed an illegal act, but committed an illegal act with an illegal purpose. If the person accused of committing the crime is too intoxicated to form the requisite intent, then he or she cannot be convicted of that offense.
For instance, receiving stolen property is a crime that punishes a person who knowingly benefits from another person's theft. In order to be convicted of this crime, the person who received the property must have known that the property was stolen. Also, some types of murder charges require the accused to have had malice aforethought, meaning that the accused thought about and planned the crime before it happened. For both of these types of offenses, it may be difficult to prove that a heavily intoxicated person had the required mental state to be convicted of the crime.
Just because a person was intoxicated and may not have meant to cause an accident or injury does not mean that he or she cannot be found guilty of a crime. People are just as culpable for crimes that they committed while highly intoxicated as they would be if they had committed those crimes sober. Additionally, many types of offenses do not require a person to have a specific intent. While voluntary intoxication may be a defense to some elements of some crimes, most people who are arrested while intoxicated will still face charges for their actions, even if they would never have committed the same act sober.
While assault and battery seem like the types of crimes where intent would matter, California courts have consistently held that crimes like simple assault and assault with a deadly weapon do not require the accused to have had a specific intent. A person who fires a gun at another, starts a fight, or throws a punch can still be arrested and convicted even if he or she was too highly intoxicated to understand his or her actions.
If you were arrested for a crime that you committed while under the influence, the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry can help. We understand that intoxication can lead you to commit out-of-character actions, and we will help you create the best defense for your situation.
To schedule a consultation, contact our office today by calling 866.902.6880, or visit www.orangecountycriminallaw.com to learn more about defending your rights.