By Nedra Weiss
In the state of California, the legal limit for intoxication is .08%. This means that if you are pulled over and caught with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08% or higher, you will be charged with a DUI (driving under the influence) offense. You may be subject to repercussions such as fines, jail time, or even worse consequences–such as human fatalities. That is why it is so important for each of us to know our own limits and take every precaution possible to ensure we do not drive while intoxicated.
But–what if you don’t know that you’re going to be intoxicated? What if you are unaware that someone has placed something in your glass, or has spiked your drink? How does that change things?
While it is unfortunate that this is something we even have to think about, the grim reality is that we do need to be vigilant of our consumption and intake when out drinking. Especially as a young woman, I know that I am more at-risk for spiked drinks than my male peers. With that being said, this once again begs the question–if someone else is responsible for your intoxication, where should the responsibility lie for any consequences derived from your intoxication?
Let’s consider a hypothetical situation here. You are at a bar with some friends after work and intend on only having one drink while you share some appetizers. For some, that one drink is enough to reach the legal limit of .08%, but for most, it is not. Should the unthinkable happen and someone spiked your drink, you may notice right away that something does not seem right. Feeling woozy, you excuse yourself from your party, announcing that you need to go home. As you get into your car, an officer notices you are fumbling with your keys and decides to follow you. You are inevitably pulled over, arrested, and charged with DUI. What is your recourse?
Can I be Held Liable?
In general, I personally do not think someone who is involuntarily intoxicated should be held directly responsible for the consequences of their intoxication. And no, by “involuntary intoxication,” I don’t mean being unaware of how quickly those six tequila shots were going to go straight to your head. Here’s my line of thought: Why should a person be punished for something that is completely out of their control? One of the quintessential reasons that driving under the influence is considered a crime is because we all know not to do it. We know the disastrous consequences that could occur should we dismiss our better judgment and drive while not 100% clear-headed.
The way I see it, getting a DUI is a choice. If you know you’re going to be drinking, be prepared. Make a plan. In today’s day and age, I can think of about a million ways to easily avoid the risk. With technology like rideshare apps and cell phones, there is no viable reason that we should ever choose to become inebriated and then proceed to operate a vehicle. However, what happens if you have that choice taken away from you?
Legal Standing if Your Drink was Spiked
When analyzing the legal scope of a person’s intoxication, the law is not as cut and dry as a personal or moral viewpoint. California Penal Code §26 (“PC §26”) outlines the guidelines as to who can be found capable of committing a crime under California law. Section Five of PC §26 states that, “[p]ersons who committed the act or made the omission charged through misfortune or by accident, when it appears that there was no evil design, intention, or culpable negligence [are incapable of being found to have committed the crime for which they have been charged].”
Put simply, the justice system focuses on the mental state and actual intentions of the acting parties. Under PC §26, one of the elements that the prosecution must demonstrate is the requisite mental state to commit the crime. In other words, the prosecution will do their best to try to prove that you wholly understood what you were doing and the consequences of your actions. However, if you are involuntarily intoxicated, you do not have control over that element. You literally don’t have the autonomy to make that decision, and thus possible consequences should be placed on the shoulders of the party who caused your involuntary intoxication.
Although there are currently no California cases that outline this exact situation, we may rely on similarly based cases until such a legal precedent has been established. If you have been charged with a California DUI based on similar circumstances within this post, reach out to our California DUI attorneys today to discuss the options available to you.
But until then: stay vigilant, don’t drink and drive, and don’t spike people’s drinks.
People v. Mathson, 210 Cal. App. 4th 1297, 149 Cal. Rptr. 3d 167 (2012)
Cal. Penal Code § 26 (West)