How effective was the defence of intoxication?

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How effective was the defence of intoxication?

 Intoxication is the excessive drinking and various forms of drug taking which can be voluntary or involuntary. Intoxication can be a defence depending on whether or not D has the required mens rea.  If in an intoxicated state without the required mens rea D may not be guilty. This depends on whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary and whether the offence charged was one of specific or basic intent.

The absence of mens rea is required otherwise intoxication cannot be a defence as shown in Kingston (1994) ‘a drugged intent is still intent’. Even if D lacks the mens rea D can still be found liable which is an exception to the rule that both mens rea and actus reus are required.

Voluntary intoxication can negate the mens rea for a specific intent offence. If D is so intoxicated he cannot form the mens rea, he may be able to put forward the defence, but normally he will not avoid liability completely, if it is possible to convict him a lesser basic intent offence.

If D is so intoxicated that he has not formed the mens rea for the offence he is not guilty. This rule comes from the case DPP v Beard. D had been charge with murder and pleaded intoxication to deny malice aforethought. From this case it is now accepted that D need not be incapable of forming intent; it is sufficient if they do not in fact do so. However, D may be very drunk and yet still form the required mens rea. In Sheehan & Moore (1975) it was held that because they did not have the mens rea for murder, their intoxication was a defence to that offence.

Where the offence charged is one of basic intent then intoxication is not a defence. This is because voluntarily getting intoxicated is considered a reckless course of conduct and recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea. This comes from leading case DPP v Majewski (1977) where D went on a 36 hour drugs and drink marathon. He got involved in a pub brawl and assaulted a customer, the manager and the police officer, who tried to arrest him. The House of Lords upheld D’s conviction for ABH and assault. His intoxicated state was not a defence as ‘it is a reckless course of conduct and recklessness is enough to constitute the necessary mens rea’. It suggests that D would automatically be guilty, merely because he has committed the actus reus of a basic intent offence whilst drunk. That is, D intoxication substitutes for the mens rea of the offence. D’s intoxication is conclusive proof, that D was reckless. However in Richardson & Irwin (1999) where drunken students dangled V over the balcony, dropped him and he was injured the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions because ‘the defendants were not hypothetical reasonable men, but university students. This is more lenient and shows the inconsistency of voluntary intoxication.

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Voluntary intoxication is never a defence to crimes of basic intent as it only requires mens rea or recklessness. Basic intent crimes include assault S47 and battery S20, criminal damage, rape and manslaughter. Specific intent crimes can be allowed as either a full or partial defence. Those included are attempt, aggravated criminal damage, theft robbery, GBH, burglary and murder. If the intention is not established then it is felt that the offender cannot be guilty because he cannot be shown to have the appropriate mens rea. However, D can be found guilty of a lesser offence known as the ...

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Summary: This piece explains the defences of voluntary and involuntary intoxication and uses cases in support. However it never addresses the question 'How effective is the defence ...' Rating: ***