The defence of intoxication reflects the difficult balance between legal principle and public policy

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  • Created on: 20-06-11 13:03
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`The defence of intoxication reflects the difficult balance between legal
principle and public policy'. Critically evaluate the accuracy of this
The defence of intoxication is based on putting doubt in the magistrates and juries mind. It
develops through case law and puts forward the question of whether the defendant formed
the mens rea needed for that offence. The defence aims to balance legal principle and public
policy, which is an important consideration, and the difficultly of which is shown through
cases seen before. It can be a defence to crimes of specific intent because you have to form
the intent for offences such as murder, theft and gbh. However, it is not a defence in crimes
of basic intent because you are reckless. In Kingston, the defendant was a paedophile who
was drugged and consequently abused a 15 year old boy. However the court found that the
defendant had still formed the mens rea despite being drugged and so had no defence.
Involuntary intoxication will result in a full acquittal and this result balances both the legal
principle and public policy. The case of Allen involved the defendant drinking a wine of which
he didn't know the strength. The defendant tried to say this was involuntary intoxication but
he was found to have no defence. If voluntary intoxication is shown to have occurred, the
law draws a major distinction between basic and specific intent crimes. Intoxication through
medical prescription will also provide the defendant with a defence. Hardie was a depressed
man who had just broken up with his girlfriend. He took her valium tablets and had an
unusual reaction which resulted in him setting fire to the wardrobe. He was acquitted. In
order to balance legal principle and public policy, the courts are keen to make a distinction
between recreational and prescription drugs. Voluntary intoxication then asks the question
of whether the offence was one of basic or specific intent. With basic intent, intoxication is
not a defence. The mens rea for basic intent is intention or recklessness, or gross
negligence. Example offences include manslaughter, assault, batter, s47 abh, s20 gbh and
wounding. In the case of Majewski, the defendant went on a 36 hour drugs and drink
marathon which resulted in a pub fight, gbh and assault. The offence was of basic intent; the
defendant formed the mens rea, and was reckless. Richardson and Irwin involved drunken
students towing the victim, another drunken student, off a balcony inflicting gbh. The jury
were asked to consider each mans foresight of consequence based on the reasonable man,
but it should have been these men without drink. In Heard, a drunken man took out his penis
and starting rubbing it against a policeman, intentional sexual feeling even though he argued
it was unintentional. Cases of mistake are also not a defence. In Fotheringham, a man had
sex with the babysitting thinking it was his wife. Cases of Dutch courage also has no defence.
Gallagher was a man who decided to kill his wife before drinking a bottle of whiskey. It was
found that he still informed the intent despite being drunk. With specific intent cases, the
defendant is still convicted but of a lesser offence with the same actus reas but of a basic
intent mens rea. The mens rea for specific intent is intention only. Example offences include
murder, s18 gbh, theft burglary and robbery. In the case of Lipman, the defendant was high
on lsd and during the night went on a `journey'. He ripped the bed sheets and stuffed it

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The defendant couldn't form the intent and so the charge went
down from murder to manslaughter. Intoxication and self defence can sometimes overlap. In
O'Grady, the defendant and victim had been drinking heavily. They both fell asleep and the
defendant woke up to find the victim hitting him so picked up a glass ashtray and hit the
victim with it.…read more


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