Is Intoxication a Valid Defense to a Crime in Illinois?

The basic principles of Criminal Law require that a criminal act be committed voluntarily and with some sort of statutorily prescribed intent in order to be punishable.  Of course, this is a very simplistic statement and the law is far more complicated, but at its most fundamental it is true.  Knowing that a criminal act must be voluntary and done with a guilty mind begs the question whether intoxication could ever be used as a defense to a crime.

Under Illinois Law 720 ILCS 5/4-1 sets forth the voluntary act requirement stating “a material element of every offense is a voluntary act…” Section 5/4-3 of the same statute established that an offense cannot be criminal unless the offender has the required mental state for that crime.  The possible mental states are intentional, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently.

Knowing that a criminal act must be voluntary and done with a guilty mind begs the question whether intoxication could ever be used as a defense to a crime.

Intoxication Defense in Illinois

Under Illinois Law, this defense is only available if the intoxicated condition was involuntary.  What this means is that you can claim a defense to criminal conduct if you were intoxicated at the time, but you were not intoxicated willfully.  Further, you have to be so intoxicated that you cannot conform to the law or appreciate that what you are doing is illegal.

One such circumstance where involuntary intoxication may occur is when the defendant is intoxicated by trickery, fraud, or deceit.  Under these circumstances, drugs or alcohol must be taken or given under false pretenses or by force that the defendant cannot control.  See People v. Walker.

An example of an innocent mistake found by the Illinois Supreme Court was criminal acts committed while the defendant was under the influence of willfully taken prescription drugs that produced a side effect that was unwarned and unexpected.  Another example would be taking a narcotic type drug on accident when you really thought you were taking aspirin.  See People v. Hari.

Some have attempted to argue that an intoxicated state was involuntary because of drug or alcohol addiction, but Illinois courts have rejected this sort of involuntary intoxication defense.  The law requires some sort of external element that produced the intoxicated state rather than the defendant’s own choice.

Prior to 2002, voluntary intoxication was available as a defense to a specific intent crime where the person was so intoxicated that they were essentially not in control of their own reason and mind.  This is not a valid defense anymore and cannot be relied upon to escape criminal liability no matter how drunk or how high at the time of the offense.  See People v. Rogers.

No matter what crime has occurred or under what circumstances you or someone you is involved in a criminal investigation, understand that the law is complex and may provide justification for what happened.  For more information contact a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney.

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