Delaware Trial Handbook § 4:3. INTOXICATION AS A DEFENSE

The fact that a defendant committed a criminal act while in or because of a state of intoxication is no defense to any criminal charge if the intoxication was voluntary.42 “Intoxication” means the inability to exercise control over one’s mental faculties due to the introduction of substances into one’s body.43 Intoxication is “voluntary” when the actor knowingly introduces substances into his or her own body which the actor knows or should know will cause intoxication, unless the substances were introduced pursuant to medical advice or under such duress as would afford a defense to a criminal prosecution.44 Substance addiction, at least resulting from initial voluntary use, does not constitute involuntary intoxication.45

The definition of “intoxication” seems to leave open the question as to the amount of intoxicating substances introduced. If a defendant is accustomed to taking one or two drinks of liquor, wine or beer which ordinarily do not result in intoxication, the question is open where such volume of consumption, because of the defendant’s condition at the time, causes intoxication which results in a crime. Under these circumstances, does or should the actor know that this limited quantity of drinks will cause intoxication?

The evidentiary effect of eliminating voluntary intoxication as a defense is to render inadmissible any opinion evidence to establish that intoxication resulted in a lack of specific intent for crimes that do not require proof of specific intent.46  However, it is not clear whether evidence, expert or otherwise, is admissible to show a specific state of mind or mens rea where the statute expressly requires it or to show that intoxication was so great as to negative even a general intent as defined in 11 Del. C. § 331.

It is a defense that, as a result of intoxication which is not voluntary, the actor at the time of the conduct lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct or to perform a material element of the offense or lacked sufficient willpower to choose whether he would do the act or refrain from doing it.47 This defense recognizes that a person should not be held criminally responsible for conduct which he or she did not freely choose to do. This rule applies in cases where the defendant is forced to take intoxicants as well as in cases where the defendant was unaware of the intoxicating nature of the substances taken.48

42. 11 Del. C. § 421; Red Dog v. State, 616 A.2d 298, 309 n.13 (Del. 1992); Polk v. State, 567 A.2d 1290, 1292 (Del. 1989); Davis v. State, 522 A.2d 342, 344 (Del. 1987); Wyant v. State, 519 A.2d 649, 657 (Del. 1986).

43. 11 Del. C. § 414(1).

44. 11 Del. C. § 424(2).

45. Red Dog v. State, 616 A.2d 298, 309 n.13 (Del. 1992); Polk v. State, 567 A.2d 1290, 1292 (Del. 1989).

46. Wyant v. State, 519 A.2d 649, 658 (Del. 1986).

47. 11 Del. C. § 423.

48. 11 Del. C. § 423, commentary

© 2010  David L. Finger