Clark & Howell

Intoxication As A Defense?


Self-induced intoxication is unavailable as a defense to a crime where the culpable mental state is recklessness. Self-induced intoxication is available as a defense where the culpable state of mind requires knowledge or intent. If the State brings alternative charges based on each of the states of mind, the intoxication defense will therefore only be available to the knowing and intentional states of mind, and not to the charge of recklessness.

Depending on the jurisdiction, evidence of voluntary intoxication can be used to negate at least some mental states. For example, the Model Penal Code generally permits proof of voluntary intoxication to negate allegations of knowledge and purpose. Model Penal Code § 2.08(1) cmt. 1, at 354 (1985). Maine statute 17-A M.R.S.A. § 37 provides the following:

  1. Except as provided in subsection 2, evidence of intoxication may raise a reasonable doubt as to the existence of a required culpable state of mind.
  2. When recklessness establishes an element of the offense, if a person, due to self-induced intoxication, is unaware of a risk of which the person would have been aware had the person not been intoxicated, such unawareness is immaterial.

The self-induced intoxication defense was highlighted in State v. Barret. In this case, the defendant was convicted in the Superior Court, York County, of arson. The State in this case brought alternative charges of arson, one based on intention and the other recklessness.

First, the court stated that Self-induced intoxication is explicitly unavailable as a defense to a crime where the culpable mental state is recklessness. State v. Barrett, 408 A.2d 1273, 1275 (Me. 1979).

Second, the court stated that Self-induced intoxication is available as a defense to the “intentional” manner of committing the crime. The court noted that once evidence was admitted at trial sufficient to generate the issue, the State had the burden of disproving the existence of the defense beyond a reasonable doubt, 17-A M.R.S.A. s 5(2) (B); that is, the State had to prove either that defendant was not intoxicated, or that, even if he were, that intoxication was not such that it prevented defendant from acting intentionally in setting the fire.

The court found evidence to support the factfinders' finding of guilt on either alternative in which the crime was charged. The court found that the defendant was not intoxicated based on evidence presented, noting he acted intentionally based on the defendants own statements (stating he intended to cause damage or harm to himself). It also noted that he would have been found guilty as self-induced intoxication is not available when recklessness is one of the states of mind.

In a similar case, a defense of self-induced intoxication was used in a murder trial. Here, the defendant attempted to show that he was intoxicated at the time of the murder, and thus did not have the requisite culpable state of mind. The jury convicted based on evidence that the defendant admitted that he was angry with the victim. They also head evidence that he later admitted to his friend that he “had done the ultimate thing” and had killed the victim. State v. Gallant, 2004 ME 67, ¶ 6, 847 A.2d 413, 414-15, as revised (June 22, 2004). As a result of this evidence, the jury rationally found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that even if Gallant was intoxicated, he acted intentionally or knowingly in causing the victim's death.