Intoxication as a Defense in Florida Criminal Law

If you’ve been charged — or if you reasonably believe that you may soon be charged — with a crime, and you were intoxicated during the commission of the crime, then you may be able to assert an intoxication defense (depending on the circumstances of the intoxication) to prevent conviction.

For a long time, Florida courts held that a defendant could not be convicted of a crime if he did not have the requisite intent to commit the crime, and this applied to situations involving the defendant’s intoxication, too.  A defendant who was intoxicated to the point where he could not form the requisite intent to commit the crime could not therefore be held responsible for the crime.  The law has since changed, however.

Let’s take a look.

Voluntary Intoxication

Florida explicitly abandoned the traditional voluntary intoxication defense by executing Florida Statutes section 775.051.  The statute clearly states that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a criminal offense, and that any evidence of a defendant’s voluntary intoxication is inadmissible to demonstrate the defendant’s lack of specific intent or to demonstrate that the defendant was “legally insane” during commission of the criminal offense.

Voluntary intoxication means willful consumption, injection, or other use of alcohol or other controlled substances that the defendant knew or should have known would cause intoxication.  For example, if you choose to drink alcohol at a party, and in doing so become intoxicated, then said intoxication is voluntary and cannot be used as a defense.

An Exception to the Rule

Fortunately, section 775.051 carves out a prescription drug exception to the rule that otherwise prevents a voluntary intoxication defense.  If you have consumed, injected, or used a controlled substance pursuant to a lawful prescription that was issued to you by a licensed medical professional (i.e., prescription drugs), and in doing so became unexpectedly intoxicated, then you may be able to assert a legitimate defense based on the unexpected intoxication.

Bear in mind that the intoxication must meet traditional defense standards involving criminal intent.  In other words, if you became unexpectedly intoxicated from taking prescription drugs, you will only succeed in asserting a defense to your purported crime if you can show that the intoxication was such that you could not have formed the requisite intent to commit the crime.

The prescription drug exception is not applicable, however, if you are found to have taken the medication in excess (as the intoxication that results would not be unexpected) — whether you took the medication in excess because of a failure to adhere to instructions, or abused the prescription for the purposes of becoming intoxicated.

Involuntary Consumption

Florida Supreme Court Jury Instruction 3.6(e)(1) elegantly states the involuntary intoxication defense.  Involuntary intoxication due to the defendant’s unknown consumption of liquor, drugs, or other substances (i.e., the defendant drank punch at a friend’s party, but did not realize that the punch was spiked with alcohol), or due to force, fraud, duress, or trickery (i.e., a third-party threatened to seriously injure the defendant unless the defendant consumed drugs), is considered a legitimate defense in Florida and negates specific criminal intent.

If you’ve been charged — or if you believe that you may be charged — with a crime, and you were intoxicated during the commission of the purported crime, then you may be able to assert an intoxication defense. Call (941) 900-3100 as soon as possible to speak with experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys at the Fowler Law Group today.

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