Involuntary Intoxication

Involuntary Intoxication

There are several scenarios in which a DUI Attorney in Fort Lauderdale can argue that their client was unknowingly impaired by a substance and should be entitled to an instruction on involuntary intoxication. Foreign courts have gone both ways on this issue. One court ruled that involuntary intoxication resulting from the use of medication at the time of the offense may be a defense, where the defendant did not know and would not be expected to know, that the medication would affect normal faculties. That same court extended the application of the involuntary intoxication defense to a situation where the evidence was that the defendant’s consumption of both alcohol and prescription medications impaired her faculties, but she did not know nor have reason to know that together the substances would have that effect. The court of another State accepted the validity of this defense, but also ruled that the defendant’s prior felony DUI conviction was properly admitted notwithstanding an objection that its probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The prior conviction could be considered as it related to knowledge of impairment, absence of mistake, and credibility.

In State v. Hammond, the court ruled that involuntary intoxication is not a defense to DUI because it is an absolute liability offense, and it is irrelevant how the defendant became intoxicated. However, Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorneys rely on Carter v. State, whereby Florida has aligned itself with those courts holding that involuntary intoxication is a defense to DUI.

In Carter, the defendant’s friend gave him an anti-depressant drug, which she thought was ibuprofen, and told the defendant that it was ibuprofen. The anti-depressant caused the defendant to become impaired and he was charged with DUI. During his trial, the defendant requested an instruction on involuntary intoxication. The trial judge denied the request on the grounds that there is no intent element for DUI; therefore, the statute imposes strict liability. On appeal, the court ruled that Due Process forbids a conviction on a serious crime without fault. The court noted that only minor offenses that involve relatively small penalties and no grave damage to the offender’s reputation may be the subject of strict liability. DUI charges are not minor offenses. Thus, Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorney note that involuntary intoxication is an applicable defense and was a defense in this case.

In Carter, the court only briefly commented on the rule that under the DUI law one can be found guilty of DUI based on a blood alcohol reading of over .08, without any proof of impairment. The court noted that in Robertson v. State, the Florida Supreme Court observed that if an offender had such a reading “the statute provides a strict liability theory, because impairment need not be proven.” The Carter court found that allowing the instruction on involuntary intoxication was not inconsistent with this provision because the issue is not whether the defendant was impaired, but rather, what caused that impairment. This ruling doesn’t speak to the strict liability language involving just the blood or breath alcohol level reading.

The court reiterated its ruling in Carter in Devers–Lopez v. State. In that case, the defendant testified that she thought she had taken her valium, when she had mistakenly taken her husband’s sleeping medication, Halcion. The defendant was impaired and was prosecuted for DUI. The State’s evidence established that the defendant did not have any significant alcohol in her system. A urinalysis showed that she had traces of opiate, cocaine, and THC. The State’s expert said these trace amounts would not have affected the defendant’s ability to drive, and further, that valium would not have impaired her driving ability. The State only charged the defendant with driving under the influence of alcohol or Halcion. “Since the evidence raised the issue as to whether she had unknowingly ingested a drug which caused her to become impaired once she was already driving,” she was entitled to a jury instruction on involuntary intoxication.

In the foregoing cases, there was some evidence other than the accused’s speculation that a debilitating substance had been administered. And in each case, the court was responsive to the defense claim that a jury instruction on involuntary intoxication was required. The circuit court appellate panel was not so responsive in Rouse v. State, when the defendant’s speculation was the only evidence of the unknowing ingestion of the substances. In that case, the defendant was arrested for DUI after driving and exhibiting significant indicators of alcohol impairment. She testified that she believed someone had placed a date rape drug in her drink, which accounted for her behavior. She was familiar with such drugs because she was a mental health counselor for drug and alcohol abuse, but she was not an expert. The court upheld the denial of an instruction on involuntary intoxication because there was “no affirmative evidence [defendant] had ingested anything other than alcohol.”

Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorneys admit that the scope of the involuntary intoxication defense in DUI cases remains to be developed. For instance, would this defense apply to a defendant who claimed that he or she did not realize that the substance contained alcohol? Would it apply to one who maintained that he or she did not realize how intoxicating a particular drink was? As suggested in the Massachusetts case of Commonwealth v. Darch, discussed earlier in this section, another question is whether the involuntary intoxication defense would apply to a defendant’s claim that he or she took prescription medication and alcohol, but did not know, or have reason to know, that they would act together to cause impairment of normal faculties? These and similar questions remain unanswered, but some opinions provide insight into how these issues might be handled by Florida courts.

In State By and Through Office of State Attorney for Twentieth Judicial Circuit v. McNally, the court stated that one cannot defend a DUI on the theory that the fact that he was an alcoholic made his intoxication involuntary. Similarly, in Spry v. State, the court rejected a probationer’s argument that he did not willfully violate probation by drinking alcohol because he suffered from the disease of alcoholism and could not help himself. Finally, in Hoffman v. State, the court upheld a finding that the defendant violated community control by committing DUI where there was no proof he consumed alcohol, but there was a urine test that showed he had consumed an unknown amount of three prescription drugs (i.e. Prozac, Soma and Xanax) for which he had a prescription. There was expert testimony that excessive use of those substances could explain the impaired behavior that officers observed. The evidence also established that the defendant was aware of the warning not to operate a motor vehicle while using the medications.

A circuit judge sitting in her appellate capacity in Cendan v. State considered whether the defense applies to a defendant’s claim that he or she did not know, nor have reason to know, that mixing of a certain prescription drug with alcohol would cause impairment. The court reached a different conclusion than the one reached by the Massachusetts court in Commonwealth v. Darch, In Cendan, the DUI defendant claimed that consumption of two prescription tablets of Darvocet and two or three beers accounted for his condition. The defendant requested an instruction on involuntary intoxication because he was unaware of the effect of combining Darvocet and alcohol. The trial judge would not give such an instruction. On appeal, the court affirmed, because such an instruction

is limited to those circumstances where the individual arrested for DUI unknowingly ingests a substance that makes him intoxicated, not where the defendant knowingly ingests a substance that he does not realize will make him intoxicated. Defendant knew he was taking Darvocet and knew he was drinking beer. He did not take the Darvocet thinking it was ibuprofen, and he did not drink the beer thinking it was Diet Coke. His argument that he was unaware that combining the alcohol and Darvocet would make him intoxicated is comparable to the argument, “I had no idea that four beers would make me intoxicated.” (emphasis by the court.)

Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorneys accept that Florida courts have allowed an involuntary intoxication instruction in DUI cases only where there is evidence that the defendant unknowingly consumed the substance leading to impairment. In other words, the evidence permitted the argument that the defendant thought he or she was consuming a certain substance that would not cause impairment, when it was actually a different substance that would cause impairment. None of these cases permitted such a defense where the defendant knew what was being consumed, but denied any knowledge that the substance could lead to impairment.

From a tactical standpoint, Fort Lauderdale DUI defense attorneys maintain that the treatment of the involuntary intoxication defense in other cases, suggests that the defense is available where the defendant knowingly and properly consumes a lawful prescription drug in accord with instructions, but has no reason to know the effect of the drug. Generally, in such cases, the defense focuses on whether the defendant has consumed some substance that would prevent the formation of a specific criminal intent. There does not appear to be any case in Florida that has permitted this application of the involuntary intoxication defense in a DUI case. However, that argument was made in one case, but the trial judge declined to rule on it because the evidence did not support the application of the defense.

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