How Does the Voluntary Intoxication Defense Work in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Feb 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Even though drinking alcohol or taking drugs can make people do things that they would not otherwise do, being drunk or high is almost never a defense to a crime. In fact, Pennsylvania has a law that specifically prohibits evidence of intoxication from being used to defend against a criminal charge.

However, intoxication can be used as evidence that a defendant could not possibly have formed the level of intent necessary to commit certain offenses. This can mitigate the charges and lead to a reduced sentence.

Intoxication is Rarely a Complete Defense to a Crime in Pennsylvania

Alcohol or drugs are a common element in lots of criminal trials. Alcohol lowers the inhibitions of anyone who drinks it, while drugs can make people act in unpredictable ways. Both of these can lead to people reacting to their surroundings in ways that are stronger than normal.

However, allowing alcohol or drug impairment to defend against a criminal charge is problematic because it would allow people to use their decision to get impaired to escape the consequences of that decision.

That's why Pennsylvania passed and amended a law, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 308, back in the 1970s that forbids the use of a defendant's voluntary intoxication to defend against a criminal charge.

Voluntary Intoxication Can Still Be Use to Prove Lack of Intent

Just because evidence of intoxication cannot be used to entirely excuse criminal conduct, though, does not mean that it has no place in a criminal trial. Evidence of severe intoxication can be advanced as evidence that a defendant could not have possibly formed the necessary level of intent to commit the crime being charged.

This nuance is especially important for violent crimes like murder. Murder is the act of killing someone else and is divided into three degrees, plus voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

First-degree murder requires an intent to kill someone. It has to be willful, deliberate, and premeditated.

Evidence that you were drunk or high – especially if you were very impaired by drugs or alcohol – can be used to persuade the jury that you could not have formed that specific intent to commit the crime.

Defendants Have to Provide Evidence of Intoxication

Importantly, defendants who want to claim that they were too intoxicated to intend to commit the crime have to prove this defense. It is not up to the prosecutor to show that you were not impaired.

This is an important shift in the burden of proof. Defendants have to proactively put together evidence of impairment, and cannot simply sit back and argue that the prosecutor didn't prove that intoxication was not present.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Raising a defense of voluntary intoxication can be difficult in Pennsylvania, and it is only available to combat certain criminal charges. When it is an option, criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Contact him online or call his Philadelphia law office at (215) 535-5353 for the legal representation you need to beat these charges.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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