Drunk, intoxicated man leaning against wall - involuntary intoxication concept

If you’ve been charged with a crime, your criminal defense attorney will evaluate your case to determine a defense strategy based on the facts and circumstances of your case. In the event you were tricked into consuming drugs or alcohol and could not form the specific intent to commit the crime with which you’ve been charged, you may be able to assert the defense of involuntary intoxication. However, this defense is not available in every case involving drugs or alcohol — and it’s important to understand when it can be used to avoid criminal liability.

What is Involuntary Intoxication in North Carolina?

Being drunk or high typically isn’t a defense to criminal conduct. But if a defendant is drunk or high through no fault of their own, North Carolina law provides for a defense in certain cases. Involuntary intoxication occurs when a person unknowingly consumes alcohol or a drug by way of force or fraudulent means. In other words, it is the result of being involuntarily exposed to a controlled substance, making you incapable of understanding the nature of your actions.

When Can Involuntary Intoxication Be Used as a Defense?

The defense of involuntary intoxication can only be used in limited cases involving specific intent crimes. Importantly, the defendant must be able to show that their intoxication was the direct cause of their criminal act — and because of it, they did not have the capacity to form the mens rea (intent) required for that particular crime. For instance, if the defendant unknowingly drank a spiked beverage, was forced to consume drugs, or was prescribed medication that had a severe effect, the defense of involuntary intoxication may exist.

In order to use the involuntary intoxication defense, a defendant must be able to raise sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they were involuntarily intoxicated rather than voluntarily intoxicated.

What is a Specific Intent Crime?

It’s essential to be aware that involuntary intoxication can only be used as a defense for “specific intent” crimes — which are not to be confused with “general intent” crimes. Most crimes require general intent, which means that the prosecution must only show that the defendant meant to do the physical act. In contrast, specific intent crimes usually require that the prosecution establish that the defendant intentionally committed a criminal act with the intention of causing a particular result.

Crimes requiring specific intent can include the following:

  • First-degree murder
  • Felony murder
  • Burglary
  • Assault with intent to kill
  • Kidnapping
  • Forgery
  • Willfully and wantonly discharging a weapon into occupied property
  • Larceny
  • Robbery

Crimes that may be categorized as “general intent” can include offenses such as manslaughter, battery, and arson. While North Carolina law does not define “specific intent” or “general intent,” courts decide on a case-by-case basis which category a case falls into. Critically, specific intent crimes often come with penalties that are much more severe — but the burden of proof is higher than in cases involving general intent crimes since the prosecution must not only establish the act, but also the mental state of the defendant.

Is Voluntary Intoxication Ever a Defense in North Carolina?

To be distinguished from involuntary intoxication, voluntary intoxication is generally not a viable defense in North Carolina criminal cases. Simply put, if a person voluntarily consumes alcohol or a drug, they cannot claim intoxication as a defense if they committed a crime while under the influence. Even if the defendant purchased drugs from a dealer and they contained a different substance than what they had expected, they cannot claim involuntary intoxication if they commit a crime after consuming them.

Theoretically, voluntary intoxication may be a viable defense because a defendant would not be able to form the criminal intent needed to be found guilty of a crime. But it is unlikely that a jury would accept this defense. In cases where a defendant can show that their voluntary intoxication limited their ability to form the intent necessary to commit a crime, it could reduce a defendant’s culpability and result in a plea bargain.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney

Establishing involuntary intoxication as a defense can be challenging — but a skillful criminal defense attorney will know what it takes to develop the best possible strategy to protect your rights. The Johnston County criminal defense attorneys at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law are committed to providing reliable counsel for a broad scope of criminal offenses in North Carolina. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: DUI/DWI