Can You Be “Too Drunk” to Be Guilty of a Crime?

Can You Be “Too Drunk” to Be Guilty of a Crime?Being in an intoxicated state doesn’t serve as a legitimate excuse for engaging in criminal behavior. However, it could potentially hinder an intoxicated individual from possessing the mental capacity needed, as per legal requirements, to be charged and convicted of specific offenses.

Consider the historical backdrop of crimes committed under the influence, such as the captivating case involving Brian Browning a while back. Brian, who had pleaded not guilty to the alleged murder of his sleeping wife, relied on a doctor’s testimony stating that the sleeping pill, doxylamine, which he had taken, could induce actions entirely out of character. While there were many other factors in Brian’s case, this still raises the question of whether intoxication, in various forms, has been a contributing factor in legal disputes. At the end of the day, the case of Brian Browning is just one example of individuals contesting accountability based on the influence of substances.

As we look back, it becomes evident that there might be numerous cases where individuals faced criminal convictions despite being under the influence or intoxicated. The question expands beyond isolated incidents and prompts more questions surrounding the legal intricacies of accountability while in an altered state. Can one truly be too drunk or under the influence to be held responsible for a criminal charge in Franklin, Tennessee?

What is involuntary intoxication?

Involuntary intoxication serves as a legal concept that holds particular weight in cases where an individual finds themselves under the influence without intentional or voluntary consumption of intoxicating substances. For example, this includes someone who has a date rape drug added to their drink, resulting in involuntary intoxication. Similarly, involuntary intoxication might manifest due to an allergic reaction to, or unintended consequences of, a legally prescribed medication.

There are two key elements of involuntary intoxication

In cases where impairment arises without deliberate intent, these two key factors form the foundation for evaluating the involuntary nature of an individual’s intoxicated state:

  1. Involuntary consumption of intoxicating substances. In cases of involuntary intoxication in Franklin, the root lies in the absence of deliberate ingestion of substances that lead to impairment. It might involve scenarios where individuals unknowingly consume substances or where external factors force substances upon them, resulting in an altered state of consciousness.
  2. Lack of awareness or control over intoxication. Another critical element is the individual’s lack of awareness or control over the intoxication process. This can encompass situations where an individual, due to various circumstances, loses the ability to exercise judgment or control their actions while under the influence, emphasizing the involuntary nature of their intoxicated state.

The role of Tennessee Code § 39-11-503

In Tennessee’s legal system, the importance of involuntary intoxication is outlined in the law, specifically in Tennessee Code § 39-11-503. This law sets the rules and things to consider when dealing with involuntary intoxication. It says that being drunk or under the influence of something isn’t considered a mental problem in the eyes of the law. However, if someone didn’t choose to get intoxicated, and because of that, they couldn’t really understand if what they were doing was wrong or follow the law, then the law might see it as a defense in their case.

It all comes down to intent

In the legal world, crimes can be split into two types: general intent and specific intent crimes.

General intent crimes

General intent crimes are the simpler kind. Here, the law only cares if someone meant to do the action, not necessarily what the outcome was supposed to be. For instance, if someone hits another person—like in battery or assault—or just has illegal drugs, the law looks at whether they intended to do those things, not what they wanted to happen afterward.

In general intent crimes, where the law mainly cares about the action itself, proving involuntary intoxication as a defense is a bit tricky. Since these crimes don’t need proof of a particular mental state, saying “I didn’t mean to be drunk” might not be a strong defense.

Specific intent crimes

On the other hand, specific intent crimes are a bit fancier. For these, the law not only wants to know if someone meant to do the action but also if they intended a particular result or outcome. For example, breaking into a house (burglary) or stealing something (robbery) involves not just doing the action but wanting a specific result. Even in serious cases like first-degree murder, where the law looks at if someone meant to cause another person’s death, it’s about having a particular outcome in mind.

When it comes to specific intent crimes, involuntary intoxication can be a more relevant defense. If being intoxicated messes with your ability to plan or think about a particular outcome, it might be a solid defense, saying, “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I wasn’t in control of my actions.” All that being said, the success of the involuntary intoxication defense often depends on the type of crime involved.

Depending on your specific case, you may be able to claim involuntary intoxication as a defense to your criminal charges in Franklin. However, you must also recognize how challenging it is to establish the lack of control you had over your actions during the crime itself. If you find yourself in a situation like this, seeking the support of legal professionals is crucial.

The experienced criminal defense team at the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates understands the intricacies of cases involving involuntary intoxication and is dedicated to securing the best possible outcome for individuals in Franklin, Brentwood, Columbia, and throughout Middle Tennessee. Our team offers comprehensive legal representation, aiming to protect you and your freedom. To explore your options and receive expert guidance, schedule a consultation today by calling our office or filling out our contact form.