Can You Use Intoxication as a Criminal Defense an an Arson Case?


Have you been charged with arson? Were you intoxicated at the time of the crime and are you wondering whether or not you can use this fact as a criminal defense? Read on to find out.

General vs Specific Intent Crimes

There are a few things you must understand before determining whether you can use intoxication as a legal defense against arson, and the first of those things is the difference between specific and general intent crimes. 

General intent crimes don't take into account what the defendant thought would be the outcome of the crime they committed. In general intent crimes, the prosecution must only prove that you, beyond a reasonable doubt, intended to commit an illegal act. 

Specific intent crimes, however, require the prosecution to prove not only meant to commit an illegal act, but that you did so with the intent of a particular outcome. 

Translated to arson charges, this means that if your crime was of general intent, you are guilty if were thinking only of starting a fire when the illegal act was committed. If your crime was of specific intent, you are guilty if you started a fire with the intent of an ulterior motive, such as harming a person inside the structure or collecting insurance money.

Whether your arson charge is being tried as a general or specific intent crime depends on your state, the property value of that which was burned, and the extent of harm resulting from the arson.

Voluntary Intoxication vs Involuntary Intoxication

The next thing you need to understand when determining whether you can use intoxication to aid in your legal defense against arson is the difference between voluntary and involuntary intoxication.

Voluntary intoxication occurs when you knowingly drink alcohol or take drugs, and become intoxicated as a result of the act.

Involuntary intoxication occurs when you are unaware that you have consumed alcohol or taken drugs. For example, if you drank spiked punch at a potluck dinner or if you ingested food that somebody had laced with drugs, then you were under involuntary intoxication at the time of the crime.

In at least one case, severe dehydration has been used as an involuntary intoxication criminal defense because the symptoms of dehydration can mimic those that would be experienced by somebody who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Intoxication as an Arson Defense

Now that you understand the difference between general and specific intent crimes, and between voluntary and involuntary intoxication, it's time to discuss when intoxication can be used as a defense against arson.

Involuntary intoxication is a total defense, which means that, if you were involuntary intoxicated at the time you committed arson, then you can use this fact to negate all purposes of intent. Without any intent proven whatsoever, your crime is likely to be dismissed no matter whether it is being tried as a general or specific intent crime.

Voluntary intoxication will not help you if you are being charged with general intent arson. Because, in general intent crimes it matters only that you meant to commit the crime, then whether or not you were under the influence at the time holds no bearing on whether you are guilty or not.

If you are being charged with a specific intent crime, however, then voluntary intoxication may play a role in your defense. Because specific intent crimes require you to have been working towards a specific desired outcome when you committed the crime, then your altered state at the time of the arson may lessen your liability for the crime. This is not to say that your case will be dismissed—only that voluntary intoxication may help reduce your punishment if you are found guilty.

If you committed the act or arson while you were under intoxication, you may be able to use this fact to help build your legal defense. For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss the specifics of your crime and the arson laws your state adheres to.


29 July 2015

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