Cases On Intoxication | Intoxication Cases

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DPP v Majewski [1977] AC 142.

The defendant had been convicted of various counts alleging actual bodily

harm, and assaults upon police officers. The offences had occurred after the

defendant had consumed large quantities of alcohol and drugs. The trial judge

had directed the jury that self-induced intoxication was not available as a

defence to these basic intent crimes. The defendant was convicted and appealed

unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

Lord Elwyn-Jones LC referred to the case of Beard in which Lord Birkenhead LC

concluded that the cases he had considered establish that drunkenness can be a

defence where the accused was at the time of the offence so drunk as to be

incapable of forming the specific intent necessary for such crimes. Lord Elwyn-Jones

LC then said that before and since Beard’s case, judges had taken the view that

self-induced intoxication, however gross and even if it produced a condition

akin to automatism, cannot excuse crimes of basic intent. With crimes of basic

intent, as his Lordship explained, the “fault” element is supplied by

the defendant’s recklessness in becoming intoxicated, this recklessness being

substituted for the mens rea that the prosecution would otherwise have to prove.


R v Lipman [1970] 1 QB 152.

The defendant, having voluntarily consumed LSD, had the illusion of

descending to the centre of the earth and being attacked by snakes. In his

attempt to fight off these reptiles he struck the victim (also a drug addict on

an LSD “trip”) two blows on the head causing injuries to her brain and

crammed some eight inches of bedsheet into her mouth causing her to die of

asphyxia. He claimed to have had no knowledge of what he was doing and no

intention to harm her. His defence of intoxication was rejected at his trial and

he was convicted of unlawful act manslaughter. His appeal to the Court of Appeal

was dismissed. Widgery LJ said:

“For the purposes of criminal responsibility we see no reason to

distinguish between the effect of drugs voluntarily taken and drunkenness

voluntarily induced.”


R v Hardie [1985] 1 WLR 64.

The defendant had voluntarily consumed up to seven old valium tablets (a

non-controlled drug having a sedative effect) for the purpose of calming his

nerves. Whilst under the influence of the drug he had started a fire in the flat

in which he had been living, but claimed to have been unable to remember

anything after taking the tablets. The defendant was convicted of causing

criminal damage being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, following

the trial judge’s direction to the jury that self-induced intoxication was not

available by way of defence to a basic intent crime. The defendant appealed.

The conviction was quashed on appeal on the grounds that he could not be

expected to anticipate that tranquillisers would have that effect upon him. The

Court of Appeal held that the trial judge should have distinguished valium, a

sedative, from other types of drugs, such as alcohol, which were widely known to

have socially unacceptable side effects. Whilst the voluntary consumption of

dangerous drugs might be conclusive proof of recklessness, no such presumption

was justified in the case of non-dangerous drugs. The jury should have been

directed to consider whether the defendant had been reckless in consuming the

valium, in the sense that he had been aware of the risks associated with its

consumption, although not necessarily aware of the risk that he would actually

commit aggravated criminal damage.


A-G for N. Ireland v Gallagher [1963] AC 349.

The defendant decided to kill his wife. He bought a knife and a bottle of

whisky which he drank to give himself “Dutch Courage”. Then he killed

her with the knife. He subsequently claimed that he was so drunk that he did not

know what he was doing, or possibly even that the drink had brought on a latent

psychopathic state so that he was insane at the time of the killing. The House

of Lords held that intoxication could not be a defence in either case as the

intent had been clearly formed, albeit before the killing took place. Lord

Denning stated:

“If a man, whilst sane and sober, forms an intention to kill and makes

preparation for it, knowing it is a wrong thing to do, and then gets himself

drunk so as to give himself Dutch courage to do the killing, and whilst drunk

carries out his intention, he cannot rely on his self-induced drunkenness as a

defence to a charge of murder, not even as reducing it to manslaughter. He

cannot say that he got himself into such a stupid state that he was incapable of

an intent to kill. So also when he is a psychopath, he cannot by drinking rely

on his self-induced defect of reason as a defence of insanity. The wickedness of

his mind before he got drunk is enough to condemn him, coupled with the act

which he intended to do and did do.”


R v Allen [1988] Crim LR 698.

The defendant had drunk wine not knowing that it was extremely strong

home-made wine. He then committed sexual offences, but claimed that he was so

drunk that he did not know what he was doing. The Court of Appeal held that this

did not amount to involuntary intoxication. He was thus treated as if he were

voluntarily intoxicated.

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