voluntary intoxication | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Voluntary intoxication is a state of intoxication knowingly and voluntarily entered into; not a viable criminal defense.

Contrast with Involuntary Intoxication.

Voluntary intoxication is a state in which an individual voluntarily and knowingly consumes an intoxicating substance, such as drugs or alcohol. When this state is reached, the individual’s ability to think, reason, and act can become significantly impaired. While voluntary intoxication is not typically considered a viable defense in criminal law, there are exceptions.

Generally, the law views voluntary intoxication as a choice made by the individual rather than as an external force that coerced them into committing a crime. Therefore, this sort of intoxication is not typically viewed as a defense against criminal charges. In some jurisdictions, the defense of voluntary intoxication may be used in limited circumstances, such as when the intoxication has led to a lack of specific intent to commit the crime.

In many cases, intoxication can exacerbate an individual’s criminal liability. For example, if an individual voluntarily consumes alcohol and then gets behind the wheel of a car and causes an accident, they may face charges of driving under the influence (DUI) or even vehicular manslaughter. Similarly, if an individual voluntarily takes drugs and then becomes involved in a physical altercation, they may face charges of assault or battery.

However, in some jurisdictions, intoxication can be used as a defense in limited circumstances. For example, in some states, voluntary intoxication can be used as a defense to negate specific intent crimes, such as first-degree murder. In these cases, the defendant may argue that they were so intoxicated that they were incapable of forming the specific intent required for the crime. This defense may be successful in some cases, but it is often difficult to prove, as the prosecution may argue that the defendant had formed the intent before becoming intoxicated.

The Model Penal Code provides guidance on the issue of voluntary intoxication as a defense. According to the code, voluntary intoxication is not a defense to any crime, except in limited circumstances where the intoxication negates the specific intent required for the crime. Under the Model Penal Code, specific intent crimes require that the defendant have a conscious objective or purpose to engage in criminal conduct. If the defendant was so intoxicated that they could not form this specific intent, they may be able to use voluntary intoxication as a defense.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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