In the Georgia Code, the legislature has set forth numerous defenses to criminal prosecutions. One of the defenses I get numerous questions about is that of intoxication. Most people are curious if being under the influence of some substance forms a valid excuse for the commission of a crime. My response is to explain that sometimes it is a defense to a criminal act and sometimes it’s not. Sounds like a typical answer from a lawyer doesn’t it? Let me explain.

In Georgia, the law recognizes two forms of intoxication: 1) Voluntary intoxication and 2) Involuntary intoxication. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-3-4(c), voluntary intoxication shall not be an excuse for any criminal act or omission. In plain terms, if a person goes out and knowingly, willingly and voluntarily gets drunk and then shoots somebody, then that person cannot claim that the alcohol made them do it. The logic behind this is that when a person consumes an intoxicating substance, then that person should know that bad things can happen and will, therefore, be held accountable for those bad things.

Involuntary intoxication, on the other hand, is a defense to a criminal act. O.C.G.A. § 16-3-4(a) states that a person shall not be found guilty of a crime when, at the time of the act, omission, or negligence constituting the crime, the person, because of involuntary intoxication, did not have sufficient mental capacity to distinguish between right and wrong in relation to such act. Subsection (b) defines involuntary intoxication as intoxication caused by 1) consumption of a substance through excusable ignorance or 2) the coercion, fraud, artifice, or contrivance of another person.

I want to make several observations in analyzing this defense. First, notice that simply being involuntarily intoxicated is not sufficient to sustain the defense. A person must be intoxicated to the point that he or she cannot distinguish right from wrong when it comes to the criminal act. This brings me to a second point. Intoxication does not always mean alcohol. Prescription pills, glue, cocaine, methamphetamine and many other substances can cause severe intoxication that could impair a person’s ability to distinguish right from wrong. Finally, involuntary intoxication does not always mean that another person forced some substance into a person’s body. For instance, a person who is taking various legally prescribed medicines could run the risk a becoming involuntarily intoxicated. On occasion, a person is being treated by various doctors for a variety of problems. If these doctors are not made aware of the different prescription medications the patient is taking, then the different medications mixed together may cause a person to become extremely impaired. This is a type of impairment that stemmed from excusable neglect.

Although this is a rarely used defense, it is a good defense of which to be aware. People should be especially cautious knowing that their voluntary drinking will not defend or excuse any criminal conduct.

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.