Is Being Under the Influence Ever a Defence?

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Some drugs, such as crystal methamphetamine hydrochloride  – more commonly known as ‘ice’ – can make users do things they would normally never do.

Using ice can result in paranoia, hallucination, depression, memory loss and loss of ability to make decisions.

It can have a more intense ‘high’ than other amphetamines like speed.

Imagine waking up to discover that you had held a knife to your mother’s throat, assaulted a stranger or stolen from your colleagues at work.

This is the reality for some drug users who face courts for crimes they don’t even remember committing while under the influence of drugs.

Police have linked multiple murders to ice, and studies have found that it is responsible for more assaults than cannabis or heroin.

So does being under the influence of drugs ever count as a defence?

In most circumstances, the law says no.

One exception to this is the charge of murder.

Being on drugs may sometimes allow for the downgrade a murder charge to manslaughter, as was the case for Mehmet Torun after he shot his girlfriend while high on drugs.

Torun said that he had no memory of loading or using his gun, although his DNA was found on the cartridges.

In order to prove murder, the prosecution must show that:

1. Your actions led to a person’s death, and

2. You intended to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH), or were reckless to the possibility that death or GBH could occur.

While Torun’s lawyer may describe the crime as “tomfoolery”, for the family of 24-year-old Kara Doyle, her death was due to “rage, aggression, obsession and stupidity.”

He was still sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

However, in cases where defendant’s have pleaded ‘not guilty’ to murder due to being affected by drugs, juries have nevertheless found them guilty.

One example is 27 year old Sean Lee King who repeatedly kicked, stomped and beat his girlfriend to death inside her apartment while high on ice.

The Crown Prosecution argued that King was not only capable of forming the intention to kill but that he did precisely that, despite the influence of the drugs.

And the jury agreed – finding him guilty of murder.

CCTV footage showed King pacing around, making calls, texting and even going to the carpark where he drove home from the city – all facts used by the prosecution to prove that he was not as incapacitated as he made out.

King was ultimately sentenced to 33 years imprisonment.

Drug or alcohol intoxication can be used where the offence requires a ‘specific intent’, such as the example above of murder.

This kind of offence requires the prosecution to prove that the offender had a specific intent  – a mental element – as well as the physical act.

The fact that a person was intoxicated can be used to show that the person did not form the intent required for the offence to be proved.

Other examples offences requiring specific intent include kidnapping and causing GBH with intent.

For other offences, intoxication either by drugs or alcohol, cannot normally be considered at all when determining guilt, including those where being under the influence was an element of the offence, for example drink driving or drug driving.

However, one scenario where it can be used as a defence is if it was not self-induced.

If you didn’t know that you were taking a drug or alcohol – for example, due to the fact that a drink was spiked – and it made you act in a certain way, for example you drove, you may be able to rely on the defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake of fact’.

However, you will only succeed if you did not know, and could not reasonably have known, that you were affected by alcohol or drugs.

While King blamed the drugs for the tragic death of his girlfriend, the law put the blame squarely on his shoulders.

Although drugs are addictive substances which can significantly impact the ability to make logical decisions, the law is clear: being under their influence is normally no excuse.

And if you made the choice to take the drug, you will usually be legally responsible for subsequent consequences.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Sydney’s Leading Firm of Criminal & Traffic Defence Lawyers.

One Comment

  1. Joe Blow

    Great, so for the purpose of murder you can be eqited but for god sake don’t drive and be point 003 over the limit or you’ll have to plead guilty, as you clearly have no defense to that, and be given a criminal record as it counts as a drugs charge… something is SERIOUSLY wrong with our legal system

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