When That Hangover Comes With Handcuffs: Is Voluntary Intoxication a Defense in Pennsylvania?

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

Many people who have woken up after the effects of “one too many” know the pain that only a hangover can produce. The headaches, the sickness, and the memory of possibly embarrassing behavior while under the influence can be sobering indeed. Unfortunately, for far too many people, that hangover also comes with a potentially more permanent reminder of the previous night’s activities: criminal charges. Under these circumstances, a common question is often posed to defense attorneys: does the fact that a person was voluntarily intoxicated during the commission of an offense act as a defense to criminal charges in Pennsylvania?

Voluntary Intoxication as a Defense
The simple truth is that voluntary intoxication is rarely applicable as a defense to criminal charges in Pennsylvania. With a few narrow exceptions for certain specific intent crimes, the voluntary consumption of drugs or alcohol does not negate criminal conduct. Although only an experienced attorney with knowledge of the facts of your case can advise you as to whether evidence of intoxication can act as a defense in your case, voluntary intoxication rarely excuses criminal conduct under Pennsylvania law. Put simply, most of the time the law treats intoxicated behavior the same as sober behavior.

What Can my Attorney Do For Me If I Was Charged While Intoxicated?
Even in cases where intoxication is not a technical defense, an experienced criminal attorney may be able to help. A skilled attorney will be aware of the potential effects that an isolated drunken incident can have on your life and your future, whether you did what you were accused of or not. Your attorney will use that information to craft a strategy that is right for your situation. This may include helping you understand how and whether to present evidence of your intoxication to police, prosecutors, or the court in hopes of leniency. In cases where your memory of the events may be lacking due to intoxication, an attorney will help you understand how the evidence against you fits together, and how it impacts the likely outcome of your case. In some cases, your attorney may advise you as to how evidence of intoxication could actually hurt your interests. The fact that you may have been intoxicated may not be a defense in your case, but it is a key fact in any criminal case. The burden on the Commonwealth to prove the charges against you remains the same, and only your attorney can help you understand how it fits into the bigger picture.

If you have been, or fear that you may be, charged with a crime that involves intoxication, contact us today to schedule an appointment with an experienced criminal defense attorney. We will work with the specific facts of your case and fight to keep an isolated mistake from costing you everything.

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