Intoxication as a Defense Against Criminal Liability: a Comparative Analysis

Topics: Criminal law, Common law, Crime Pages: 38 (14796 words) Published: January 23, 2013


Intoxication with alcohol and drugs is commonly associated with crimes of violence. The relationship between intoxication and criminal culpability is complex especially if a mental condition legal defence is being considered. The apparent stimulating effect of alcohol is due solely to the fact that it deadens the higher control centres and progressively the other centres as well, thus weakening or removing the inhibitions that normally keep us within the bounds of civilised behaviour. The main highlight of this research paper will be to enunciate various legal defences available to an intoxicated offender under Indian law (Indian penal code) as well as other Common Law countries and to propose legal reforms to fill in loopholes associated with intoxication against criminal liability because a common man will not have much regard for the law if a drunken man batters him, and the man gets away with his conduct merely because he was too intoxicated to think clearly.

The hypothesis of my research paper would be:
“the public is injured by the criminal act whatever the state of the criminal mind”

“…death is final. This finality makes it proper to regard death as the most serious harm that may be inflicted on another, and to regard a person who chooses to inflict that harm without justification or excuse as the most culpable of offenders.”1- Professor Ashworth Intoxication or Drunkeness2 is of exceptional theoretical importance for the criminal law not only because it involves the basic postulates of liability, but also because it constitutes an essential feature of numerous fact-situations whose impact on the rules has had curious and instructive effects3. On perhaps no other legal issues have courts so widely differed, or so often changed their views, as that of the legal responsibility of intoxicated offenders.4 Intoxication presents problems in theory of responsibility. A man who commits a crime under the influence of alcohol may have otherwise led a normal and responsible life. His acts committed under the influence of alcohol may not reflect his real character. It could have been a mere aberration in his life. Convicting a person who commits a crime under the influence of alcohol like all other offenders may appear to be harsh but on the other hand, it is not uncommon for offenders to consume alcohol before committing an offence. Hence, it may not be in the interests of the general society to treat intoxication as a general defence. This is because, a man by consuming alcohol and becoming intoxicated voluntarily, impairs his own self control and good judgment5. Section 85 and 86 of the Indian penal code deal with intoxication as an extenuating factor. A combined reading of ss 85 and 86 reveals that the former lays down the law relating to involuntary intoxication6 or drunkenness as a defence to criminal charge, while the latter deals with criminal liability of a voluntary intoxicated7 person when he commits an offence under the influence of self-administered intoxicant. Section 85 accords immunity from criminal liability to a person intoxicated involuntary. Section 86 provides for a limited exemption from criminal liability to a self-intoxicated person. The issue of how the law should treat self-induced intoxicated offenders has been with us for hundreds of years. At the heart of the controversy is a clash between the philosophy of criminal liability and certain principles of public policy: (1) It is a fundamental element of...
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