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The Defense of Voluntary Intoxication

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Voluntary intoxication is a very limited defense both in application and in its proof.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Homicide Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Voluntary intoxication based upon the ingestion of a drug or alcohol is a very limited defense.  The defendant has the burden to prove that they were "overwhelmed" through the use of the drug or alcohol to the extent that they could not forumulate the specific intent to commit murder.  It is only a defense to first degree murder.  That is, murder with the specific intent to kill.  It is NOT a defense to everyday crimes, such as retail theft.

What the Courts have held:

In order to be entitled to a charge of voluntary intoxication, there must be evidence in the case sufficient to place the defendant's mental condition in issue. The evidence must show that the defendant was "overwhelmed or overpowered [by drugs] to the point of losing his faculties or sensibilities" at the time the crime was committed.  Mere evidence of the consumption of alcohol or drugs and appearing intoxicated is not sufficient to support a conclusion that a defendant was "overwhelmed or overpowered" by alcohol or drugs.  A level of intoxication which was so great as to render the accused incapable of forming specific intent would reduce the crime of first-degree murder to second-degree murder.  Under the current murder statute, second-degree murder is reclassified as third-degree murder.

If you've been charged with murder and were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time, speak to experienced legal counsel before speaking to the police.  It may be necessary to have the matter reviewed by one of our experts first.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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