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When Can Intoxication be Used as a Defense in California?


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Under California law, defendants in criminal cases can use the defenses of both voluntary and involuntary intoxication in certain cases. These defenses can help get criminal charges reduced or dropped altogether, but they are not as straightforward as they seem. Simply stating that you were intoxicated at the time is not always enough of a defense, and you may have to prove certain facts of your case. Below, our California criminal defense lawyer explains further.


Using the Defense of Voluntary Intoxication


A person is voluntarily intoxicated when they have voluntarily consumed an intoxicating substance. An intoxicating substance is classified as any intoxicating liquor, drug, or other substance which noticeably changes or affects a person’s mental or physical abilities. Simply becoming voluntarily intoxicated does not shield someone from criminal liability in all types of criminal cases. Voluntary intoxication is only an appropriate defense in criminal offenses that involve specific intent.


Specific intent crimes, as opposed to general intent crimes, are offenses that require the defendant to:

  • Intentionally commit a criminal act, and
  • Have a specific intention to break the law

In order to have specific criminal intent, defendants must typically be in a certain state of mind, or mental state, to act with a specific purpose. For example, a person may specifically intend to defraud someone. Murder, forgery, and theft are just a few crimes that require specific intent.


Contrary to specific intent crimes, general intent crimes are those in which a person performs a physical act. The prosecution does not have to show in these cases that the defendant had the intent to commit a crime. Driving under the influence, for example, is a general intent crime.


Using the Defense of Involuntary Intoxication


Unlike voluntary intoxication, a person becomes involuntarily intoxicated when they do not intentionally consume an intoxicating substance. Also, contrary to the defense of voluntary intoxication, a person cannot be found guilty of a criminal offense if they were involuntarily intoxicated, regardless of the circumstances. A person is considered to be involuntarily intoxicated if they:

  • Consumed drugs, alcohol, or another intoxicating substance without knowing they were consuming the substance, or
  • Were tricked or forced into consuming an intoxicating substance

Some of the most classic examples of involuntary intoxication are when a person consumes a drink they believe is non-alcoholic without knowing it is spiked or when a person eats brownies, not knowing they contain marijuana.


Limitations on the Defense of Intoxication


The defense of involuntary intoxication does not apply when a defendant believes they were consuming one illegal substance, such as cocaine, but later learned they were consuming another illegal substance. Additionally, the California courts have generally not upheld the defense of involuntary intoxication when a defendant argues that they are an alcoholic and they have no choice but to consume alcohol.


Call Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in California Today


If you have been charged with a crime allegedly committed while you were intoxicated, you need a strong defense. At Strongest Defense, our California criminal defense lawyers can craft it for you and give you the best chance of a successful defense. Call us now at (805) 477-0070 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation.