Defences - Intoxication

Notes from class on intoxication, might edit them later and add detail. I still have to add criticisms of intoxication.

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  • Created by: sweetpea
  • Created on: 03-03-12 16:18


This can occur through alcohol or drugs.

  • Voluntary intoxication = This is where the accused has willingly become intoxicated. This is the defence to some crimes but not others.
  • Involuntary intoxication = This is where the accused has become intoxicated through no fault of their own. This can be a defence to all crimes.

Just being intoxicated ("tipsy") is not a defence. The intoxication must be significant ("wasted") enough to prevent the accused from having the necessary mens rea.

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Voluntary intoxication

If the accused is so intoxicated that he has no mens rea, then according to legal principle he should be found not guilty. However for obvious public policy reasons (for the good of society) the law cannot allow voluntary intoxication to excuse all criminal behaviour. For this reason there are strict limits on the defence.

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Limits - Intoxication must completely negate the m

The accused must have been so intoxicated that he had no intention to commit the crime. This was stated in the murder case of DPP v Beard 1920.

The defence will fail if the accused was just a bit drunk "drunken intent is still intent" this was stated as obiter in Sheenan and Moore 1975.

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DPP v Beard 1920

The accused whilst intoxicated ***** a 13 year old and put his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming.

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Sheenan and Moore 1975

The defendants in a drunken state set fire to and killed a tramp.

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Limits - Intoxication is no defence if taken for d

It is no defence if for example, you get drunk in order to give you the nerve to commit a crime. A.G for Northern Ireland v Gallagher 1963.

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A.G for Northern Ireland v Gallagher 1963

The accused bought a knife and a bottle of whisky in order to kill his wife. He drank the whisky before killing her. Murder conviction was upheld.

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Limits - Voluntary intoxication is no defence to c

Crimes of specific intent = The only mens rea is intention

Crimes of basic intent = The mens rea can be intenton or recklessness

This distinction comes from a case of DPP v Majweski 1977.

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DPP v Majweski 1977

During a 24 hour drug and alcohol binge the accused smashed some windows committed ABH and assaulted some police officers. The HOL said that he could not use voluntary intoxication because these were all crimes of basic intent with recklessness as the mens rea. Voluntary intoxication is no defence to crimes of basic intent.

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Specific intent crimes

  • Intention is the only mens rea
  • Voluntary intoxication is a defence
  • Murder, Theft, Attempts, S.18 GBH
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Basic intent crimes

  • Recklessness is in mens rea
  • Voluntary intoxication is not a defence 
  • Involuntary manslaughter, Common assault/ battery, S.47 ABH, S.20 GBH
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Voluntary intoxication and charge reduction

In many cases, where voluntary intoxication is a defence to a specific intent crime, the conviction may simply be reduced to a basic intent crimefor which voluntary intoxication is no defence eg. a S.18 may be reduce to a S.20. Murder will be reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Sheenan and Moore 1975. Lipman 1970.

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Lipman 1970

The accused was hallucinating on LSD and thought that his girlfriend was a snake. He stuffed sheets down her throat and killed her. He could us voluntary intoxication as a defence to murder. However, the charge was simply reduced to involuntary manslaughter, for which voluntary intoxication is no defence.

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Involuntary intoxication

This can be a defence to crimes of specific and basic intent crimes.

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Examples of involuntary intoxication

  • Forced intoxication.
  • Spiked food/drink.
  • Mistaken intoxication e.g where the accused wrongly thinks that he has been given an alcohol free drink. However just mis-judging the strength of the alcohol is not involuntary intoxication. Allen 1998.
  • The unforseeable effects of taking a perscribed drug.
  • Unforseeable aggressive states caused by sedatives. Hardie 1985.
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Allen 1998

The accused committed sexual assault after drinking some homemade wine off a friend. It was much stronger than he thought and so he claimed involuntary intoxicationas a defence. The court said that this was not involuntary intoxication  and so he had no defence to the basic intent crime.

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The unforseeable effects of taking a perscribed dr

Where a new perscription puts the accused in an automatic state.

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Unforseeable aggressive states caused by sedatives

Hardie 1985.

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Hardie 1985

The accused, upset by his girlfriends rejection, took some of the valium that she offered him. Instead of calming him down it had the opposit effect, he set fire to her wardrobe. The HOL said that this was involuntary intoxication and therefore could be a defence to the basic intent crie of criminal damage.

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Limits - no defence if the accused had some mens r

Kingston 1994.

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Kingston 1994

A business rival spiked the accuseds food and drink as part of a set up where he was tempted to have sex with a 15 year old boy and then blackmailed using the photographs. Kingston said that he would not have done it if he had been sober. But he still knew what he was doing even though it reduced his inhabitions. The HOL said that this showed he still had some mens rea and therefore even though the intoxication was involuntary he could not use the defence.

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Limits - No defence to basic intent crimes if accu

If the accused became involuntary intoxicated because he was reckless then it will not be a defence to basic intent crimes. Bailey 1983.

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Bailey 1983

The accused did not eat after taking his insulin he committed GBH with an iron bar. The COA said that if he knew that he might get into that state by not eating then even though it was involuntary intoxiation it would not be a defence to the basic intent S.20 GBH.

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