Legalese — Involuntary Intoxication

There are a lot of criminal offenses that require mens rea.  Mens rea is a Latin term that literally means, “guilty mind.”  It is used in law to describe a state of mind in which you knew what you were doing.   For example, if you are talking with your hands and you fling your arm backwards to illustrate a point, and in so doing you actually slug someone in the face* you are not guilty of battery because you had no intention to hit someone.  You do not have the requisite mens rea.

So what happens when you are drunk?  So drunk that you can’t control your mouth or your actions?  Well, that depends – why/how are you drunk?  If someone slipped a roofie in your drink, or spiked your punch without you knowing it, and you are intoxicated ad a result, you are involuntarily intoxicated.  Therefore, you are not responsible for your actions.  However, if you purposely drink your 6th margarita and then do something stupid that you don’t even remember the next day, you are voluntarily intoxicated, and you are responsible.  This is true even if after the 5th you were so far gone that it can hardly be said that your choice to drink the 6th was voluntary.

O.C.G.A. 16-3-4(a) says that a “person shall not be found guilty of a crime when, at the time of the act, omission, or negligence constituting the crime, the person, because of involuntary intoxication, did not have sufficient mental capacity to distinguish between right and wrong in relation to such act.”  Involuntary intoxication is then defined in section (b) as “intoxication caused by: (1) Consumption of a substance through excusable ignorance; or (2) The coercion, fraud, artifice, or contrivance of another person.”

Let’s take that a step further – let’s say you are a chronic alcoholic, diagnosed properly and everything.  Is your uncontrollable urge for a drink enough to make your intoxication involuntary?  No, say the Georgia courts.  See McEver v. State, 373 S.E.2d 624, 625 (1988).

Georgia law and the courts are very strict.  If you picked up the drink, knowing full well what it was and consuming it with no more than peer pressure egging you on, you are voluntarily intoxicated.  And, “[v]oluntary intoxication shall not be an excuse for any criminal act or omission.”

Of course, every rule has an exception, and this is no exception to that rule.  (Ha ha.)  Sometimes, voluntarily intoxication can negate intent in terms of degree.  For example, it may be the difference between murder and manslaughter.  Juries [and judges] are allowed to consider whether intoxication negated the necessary intent to commit murder.  See Lobosco v. Thomas, 928 F.2d 1054, 1058 (11th Cir. 1991).

In sum, however, don’t think that being drunk will be an excuse that will help you get out of the consequences of whatever tomfoolery ensues.  If you’re a mean drunk, don’t drink.  If you’re prone to acts of criminal stupidity when intoxicated, don’t drink.  And keep a sober friend nearby in any case to help protect you from your own lack of judgment.

And whatever you do, don’t drink and drive.

*I actually did this in college once.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.  No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the particular details of your situation.

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