The Mens Rea for Voluntary and Involuntary Intoxication

In criminal law, there are two elements to every crime. The first element is known as actus reus, which refers to the criminal conduct that leads to the violation of the law. The second element is known as mens rea, referring to a “guilty mind” or more colloquially, the intent of the person who commits the illegal actions. Generally, for any crime to be committed, not only must a person have committed the illegal acts, but he or she must have the requisite intent to commit the crime. If you or a loved one have been arrested for committing a crime, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

General Intent Crimes and Specific Intent Crimes

Most crimes are general intent crimes. This means that the prosecution only has to prove that the criminal defendant had the intention to act in a way that ultimately is in violation of the law. This provides that it is irrelevant whether or not the criminal defendant actually intended the results that were a product of his or her actions. Some crimes, known as specific intent crimes, require that the prosecution must prove that there was deliberate intention by the defendant to commit the crime itself and he or she intended the consequences of the illegal acts. Finally, a small subset of crimes are strict liability crimes where it does not matter the intention of the criminal defendant, but if he or she performs the illegal act, he or she is criminally liable, regardless of intent.

Pre-1999 Florida Ruling on Intoxication

Before 1999, in Florida, it was possible that a criminal defendant could use his or her intoxication (either from alcohol or a controlled substance) as a defense for any action that he or she committed while under the influence. It was an affirmative defense, which required that the criminal defendant would have the burden to prove that though he or she committed the crime, the intoxication made it impossible for him or her to actually form the intent necessary to commit the crime or intended the results of his/her actions.

Florida’s Current View on Voluntary Intoxication

However, a criminal law went into effect in October 1999 that revoked the right of a criminal defendant to defend his or her actions through this affirmative defense. The law, Section 775.051, states that voluntary intoxication is no longer an affirmative defense that the criminal defendant could use to protect him or herself. The law states that a criminal defendant may not during his or her criminal proceedings use any evidence that would show that the criminal defendant did not have the specific intent to commit the crime due to his or her intoxication. In addition, the law prohibits the admission of evidence that shows that his or her intoxication made the defendant insane at the time that he or she was committing the crime.

Intoxication as a Result of Doctor’s Orders: The Exception

The Florida legislature did note that there was an exception to this law. If the criminal defendant was intoxicated as a result of using a controlled substance that was lawfully prescribed to him or her by a licensed practitioner, he or she would be able to use the defense.

The Importance of the “Voluntariness” in Intoxication Crimes

The important distinction between the law and its exception falls to the understanding of “voluntary.” A person who gets drunk or uses drugs and breaks the law as a result of this intoxication may not have voluntarily acted in that way, but he or she voluntarily consumed the alcohol or otherwise abused the drug which led to the consequences. It was reasonably foreseeable that where a person abuses a drug or alcohol, criminal actions could occur as a result. However, if a person takes a drug as prescribed to them by a medical physician or a trained practitioner, it is not reasonably foreseeable that an illegal act may occur as a result. The person is putting trust into the medical physician that the drugs will have a positive effect, rather than a negative effect. It also becomes less voluntary to consume a drug when it is prescribed for one’s well-being

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.