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The intoxication defense in California

In some criminal cases, the defendant may assert intoxication as a defense to the alleged crime. While intoxication is not available as a defense to every alleged criminal act, voluntary intoxication may be used as a defense to crimes that involve an element of specific intent. Involuntary intoxication may be asserted as a defense to any criminal charge.

Involuntary intoxication, which is when someone is intoxicated through no fault of their own, is allowed as a complete defense if it made the person so intoxicated that they would meet the definition of legal insanity. Legal insanity is when a person is unable to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time a crime is committed.

By contrast, voluntary intoxication, when it is allowed as a defense, is an affirmative defense only. This means the defendant will hold a burden to prove that their voluntary intoxication negated their ability to form the specific intent required for certain crimes. Some crimes require an element of general intent while others require specific intent. Voluntary intoxication may not be asserted as an affirmative defense against general intent crimes.

People who were either involuntarily or voluntarily intoxicated at the time they are alleged to have committed a criminal offense may want to talk to their criminal defense lawyer about whether it might be an available defense in their case. This is especially true if their intoxication was involuntary, such as if they were unknowingly drugged by another person or if they suffered intoxication as a result of a side effect of a medical condition. After investigating the event thoroughly, an attorney may be able to advise their client whether or not an intoxicated state might be an available defense in their case. If it is, they may then use that information to try to secure a dismissal of charges from the prosecutor.

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