Is intoxication a defense to criminal charges?

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Is intoxication a defense to criminal charges in Pennsylvania?

Bad decisions can lead to criminal charges, and are often the result of impaired judgment. Impaired judgement is the frequent side effect (and sometimes the goal) of ingesting alcohol or controlled substances. The battle cry of most persons charged is “It seemed like a good idea at the time”. I would have never done that sober.” Is this a viable defense to criminal charges in Pennsylvania? Unfortunately for those who wake up with more than just a headache after a long Saturday night, the answer is no.

In Pennsylvania, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §308 very clearly states that neither voluntary intoxication nor voluntary drugged condition is a defense to a criminal charge. In fact, evidence of such condition is generally inadmissible except to reduce a charge of murder from a higher degree to a lower degree. This statute does not preclude, however, raising involuntary intoxication as a defense.

The legal precept behind involuntary intoxication is that the person asserting the defense lacked culpability in causing the intoxication. If the impairment was caused by some outside force, the law is willing to look past poor decisions made under the influence, provided the defendant can prove the affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

There are four types of situations where the affirmative defense is generally recognized: (1) where the intoxication was caused by the fault of another (i.e., through force, duress, fraud, or contrivance); (2) where the intoxication was caused by an innocent mistake on the part of the defendant (i.e., defendant took a hallucinogenic pill in reasonable belief it was aspirin or lawful tranquilizer); (3) where a defendant unknowingly suffers from a physiological or psychological condition that renders him abnormally susceptible to a legal intoxicant (pathological intoxication); and (4) where unexpected intoxication results from a medically prescribed drug. Commonwealth v. Smith, 831 A.2d 636 (Pa.Super. 2003).

Some interesting questions remain unanswered, such as voluntary/involuntary overlap. What if a person voluntarily has six drinks in two hours, when a third party slips a narcotic into their drink? Is the law able to parse out what conduct stemmed from the voluntarily consumed alcohol versus the involuntarily consumed narcotics?

If you are being investigated or have already been charged with a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Steven P. Trialonas and our attorneys at the Mazza Law Group, P.C. are well versed in all possible defenses to criminal charges to best meet the needs of each client.

Is intoxication a defense to criminal charges? was last modified: September 17th, 2015 by Steven Trialonas