Intoxication as a Defense

courtmartialdefenselawyers11.01.02 2R.C.M. 916(1)(2), voluntary intoxication is a legitimate defense against an element of premeditation, specific intent, knowledge, or willfulness in any crime—except the element of specific intent in the crime of unpremeditated murder.   In United States v. Morgan, 37 M.J. 407 (C.M.A. 1993), the Court held that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to unpremeditated murder.

To constitute a valid defense, voluntary intoxication need not deprive the accused of his mental capacities nor substantially deprive him of his mental capacities. Rather, it need only be of such a degree as to create a reasonable doubt that he premeditated or entertained the required intent, knowledge, or willfulness. See generally United States v. Gerston, 15 M.J. 990 (N.M.C.M.R. 1983); United States v. Ledbetter, 32 M.J. 272 (C.M.A. 1991); and United States v. Cameron, 37 M.J. 1042 (A.C.M.R. 1993).

General intent crimes

Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to crimes involving only a general intent. In United States v. Brosius, 37 M.J. 652 (A.C.M.R. 1993), aff’d, 39 M.J. 378 (C.M.A. 1994), the Court determined that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to the general intent crime of communicating a threat.   And in United States v. Reitz, 47 C.M.R. 608 (N.C.M.R. 1973) the Court concluded that voluntary intoxication is no defense to drug sale, transfer and possession.

Court must instruct on voluntary intoxication defense

In United States v. Yandle, 34 M.J. 890 (N.M.C.M.R. 1992), the Court held that in cases where there is some evidence of excessive drinking and impairment of the defendant’s faculties, the judge must sua sponte instruct on the defense of voluntary intoxication. Moreover, in United States v. Watford, 32 M.J. 176 (C.M.A. 1991), the Court found that if no evidence of excessive drinking or impairment, the military judge is not required to instruct.

Limitations on voluntary intoxication defense

The Supreme Court has found that it is constitutional for states to put limits on the voluntary intoxication defense. In Montana v. Egelhoff, 116 S. Ct. 2013 (1996), the Supreme Court determine that Montana’s statutory ban on voluntary intoxication evidence in general intent crimes is consistent with state interests in deterring crime, holding one responsible for consequences of his actions, and excluding misleading evidence, and does not violate the due process clause.