Involuntary Intoxication and DUI


Many jurisdictions consider driving under the influence a “strict liability” offense. This means that in order for a person to be convicted of driving under the influence, the prosecution need not prove that the person intended to drive drunk. In other words, you can be convicted of driving under the influence even if you did not intend to drive drunk. Generally, the reason for this is that many people drink alcohol, not intending to get drunk, and drive anyways. But what if the person has no intention to drink alcohol at all and ends up getting drunk? How might this happen? The “sober driver” unknowingly drinks from a spike punch bowl. Or, in the case of marijuana, someone ingests a pot brownie honestly thinking that it is a normal brownie and unknowingly gets stoned.

The California jury instruction CALCRIM 3427 states, “A person is involuntarily intoxicated if he or she unknowingly ingested some intoxicating liquor, drug, or other substance, or if his or her intoxication is caused by the force, duress, fraud, or trickery of someone else, for whatever purpose [without the fault on the part of the intoxicated person].” A person who has been involuntary intoxicated cannot be convicted of a crime according to California Penal Code section 24 which states, “All persons are capable of committing crimes except…[p]ersons who committed the act charged without being conscious thereof.”

You will also have to prove that you became intoxicated through no fault of your own. For example, the defense is not available if you intended to drink alcohol, but someone spiked your drink with more alcohol than you knew of. This might also mean that you had no reason to believe that the drink was spiked or that you had no reason to believe you were intoxicated when you decided to drive.

This is very difficult to show.

On a similar note, one California court has held that the mistake of fact defense can be based on involuntary intoxication (People v. Scott (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 823). The mistake of fact defense can be used if you act under an honest and reasonable mistake of fact and commit a crime. This does not apply if you are mistaken of the law. For example, you cannot use the defense if you mistakenly believe the law prohibited you from driving with a .10 or above instead of .08 or above BAC, and you have a .09 BAC. However, if you honestly and reasonably, but mistakenly believe that you have not ingested any intoxicating substances, you may be able to use the mistake of fact defense.

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3 Responses to Involuntary Intoxication and DUI

  1. DeeAnn Graham says:

    I just finished my first jury trial in my ambien case where after proving that I did not knowingly, intentionly or willingly ingest ambien the morning of my arrest on my way to work, the judge ruled that the “mistake of fact” clause could be used in my case. The anxiety pill that I thought I was taking looked identical and I reasonable thought I was ingesting this anxiety pill. My trial ended in a hung just of less than 1 hour of deliberations. I was devistated at the thought that 7 out of 12 jury members where so biased against me that they could not apply the jury instructions “mistake of fact” and found me criminal guilty. The lead DA seems to have it in for me and immediately motioned for another trial against me. I have already spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees, I’m at the point where I just want to defend myself. I do not qualify for a public defender. Can I do represent myself?

    • nobody says:

      Yes anyone in north america can reprisent themselves. “to my knowledge” but be certain first you can just meet with a lawyer for a short time with a list of questions “preferably after at least a week of research” it does not cost nearly the same as hiring a lawyer to represent you, its just a consult. for instance in miontreal the top traffic lawyer costs 99$ for a consult. which i assume to be an hour long

  2. nobody says:

    also you may be intitled to legal aid (a lawyer paid by the government)
    and you can always postpone your court dat (only so many times) and be sure to ask fora ll the evidence against you includin any videos that you mayor may not be aware of.

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