Can You Be Held Accountable for Your Actions During a Drinking Related Blackout?June 16th, 2015
Whether or not someone can be held accountable for their actions when completely intoxicated is a complicated legal issue. Some crimes require proof of intent to commit the crime in which case, whether or not they were heavily intoxicated may come into play. In most cases, however, there are still many legal consequences accompanying crime, whether the person was black-out drunk or entirely sober. These consequences may vary state to state and by case.
Intent And Drinking Related Crimes
Generally speaking, someone is held responsible for their crimes to the degree in which they demonstrate intent. There are two types of intent: General intent and specific intent. General intent refers to a crime committed by one action that lead to an unintended consequence. For example, someone who gets in their car drunk, then drives over the speed limit and runs into a van with a family inside, will be held responsible for any damage or loss of life caused. Intoxication matters very little as a defense against any general intent crime because the reckless conduct generated by drinking is well-established.
Specific intent crimes differ in that the behavior generates an intended consequence. For example, if someone takes a life insurance policy out on their spouse, then shoots their spouse. This is a case in which the prosecution must ascertain evidence to support the individual intended to follow through on an action with an intended consequence, in this case the death of their spouse and resulting financial gain. Specific intent crimes are less black and white and in cases where there is little evidence to support an intoxicated person ever had ill-will toward his or her spouse, it is a more relevant, though weak, defense.
Can Intoxication Be Part Of A Defense?
Intoxication may be used as part of a defense in a case relating to general intent crimes, though it won’t necessarily win a case. However, in states where the degree, or severity, of a crime is measured, an intoxication defense may serve to reduce the degree of the crime committed.
A crime of passion, in which an intoxicated lover gets angry at their partner and in an irrational fit of jealousy, kills them is different from a crime with premeditated intent, especially where the individual demonstrated no previous aggression or threats toward their partner.
In other states, however the intoxication defense is rendered useless, even if the accused had blacked out from drinking so much.
Voluntary Versus Involuntary Intoxication
To complicate matters, the law in some cases, recognizes the difference between voluntary (you take a drink because you want to and it leads to intoxication) versus involuntary intoxication. While this defense was likely originally intended for individuals who were unaware of the effects of a drug or ingestion of the drug, it sometimes applies to the disease of alcoholism, in which someone may not intend to drink excessively, but no longer feels in control of their drinking. This is known as pathological intoxication.
Alcoholism And Temporary Insanity Or The Intoxication Defense
In 1857, a trial was underway in which the defense claimed their client should not be found guilty of murder because he had recently undergone surgery and suffering the lingering ill-effects of the drug. Though the prosecution objected, a number of doctors agreed that the chloroform used during the surgery could have caused the condition of temporary insanity. Despite an excellent argument on part of the prosecution, Abraham Lincoln was not able to win the case and the defendant walked free.
In the years that followed, the temporary insanity defense has been used in cases where blatant drug and alcohol use caused changes in a person’s personality. The guidelines for a temporary insanity defense are generally as follows:
- An individual at the time of their crime did not know right from wrong, or understand the nature of their crime.
- An individual’s behavior must be so affected by mental illness that they are unable to conform to normal social standards.
However, this defense as it relates to the disease of alcoholism does not necessarily hold weight in court. Someone who commits a crime, despite being intoxicated at the time of the crime, even if they are no longer in control of their drinking, may still be held accountable under the law. What a defense can do is examine the behaviors of the individual prior to the crime. If the criteria are met, whether the drinking is intentional or not, it may be used as a defense in crimes committed while intoxicated. While the individual may not walk free, they may be able to access invaluable treatment while in prison or see a reduced sentence.
The most obvious way to avoid committing a crime while intoxicated is to seek help for problem drinking. Alcohol can alter how a person behaves, making them more aggressive and reducing their response time and perceptions. Even if you do not have a history of drinking, consuming greater than the recommended levels of alcohol can result in unintended behaviors, some of them resulting in devastating consequences.
Getting Help For Alcohol Addiction
AlcoholTreatment.org is your online resource for the professional support and comprehensive, evidence-based treatment options to help you through to a successful recovery. Rehabilitation for alcohol addiction requires a compassionate degree of understanding the disease and the treatment types that are effective in reducing cravings for alcohol, while treating those underlying issues fueling the addiction. Contact us to speak with someone in confidence today and discover the options available in your area to meet your individual needs. Begin a new and rewarding life in recovery beginning with one simple phone call.