Is Involuntary Intoxication A Good Defense Against A DUI Charge?

18 December 2014
 Categories: Law, Articles


As strange as it may sound, sometimes people become intoxicated through no fault of their own. For example, a Maryland student was recently charged for giving his teacher part of a brownie that had been baked with marijuana and did not notify the person of this fact. If she had drove while under the influence, she could have been charged with a DUI. However, involuntary intoxication is a complete defense against DUI and DWI charges. Here's what you need to do to use this defense in court.

Criteria for Involuntary Intoxication

To successfully use the involuntary intoxication defense, you must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that

  • You consumed the intoxicating substance without your knowledge
  • Someone tricked or forced you into consuming the substance
  • You did not know (or had reason to know) the substance would lead to your intoxicated state.

Possibly the most well-known example of involuntary intoxication is "spiking the punch bowl" wherein someone adds liquor to a non-alcoholic drink without anyone's knowledge or approval. A person who drinks from the punch bowl becomes intoxicated and gets arrested for DUI while driving home could use the involuntary intoxication defense to have the charges dropped.

You could also use this defense if someone forces you to consume drugs or alcohol. For instance, someone restrains you and injects you with heroin or threatens you with lethal harm if you don't consume alcohol. Both of these and similar situations could convince the court to rule in your favor.

Last, you may be off the hook if you didn't know the substance you consumed would make you intoxicated. This is often the case when people have adverse and unanticipated reactions to medications.

For instance, the sleep-aid Ambien (zolpidem) is a hypnotic drug used to induce sleepiness. One disturbing side effect of this medication is that it causes people to perform tasks while unconscious which includes eating, driving and committing crimes.

Though this side effect is well known now and patients are appropriately advised of this fact when they receive a prescription for the medication, this was not always the case. It wasn't until 2006 when Patrick Kennedy got into an Ambien-induced accident that the issue came to the fore and the company made changes to the medication's labeling warning of this potential side effect.

Proving Your Case

The challenge to using involuntary intoxication as a DUI defense is that it can be tough to prove you were given drugs or alcohol against your will. In cases where multiple people are affected (e.g. the spiked punch bowl at a party), you can get other people to testify on your behalf that your alcohol consumption was unintentional.

Another person's confession to and/or conviction of the crime can also serve as compelling evidence that you were tricked or forced to take intoxicating substances. However, the court system moves slowly and there is a very real risk you would be convicted for the DUI before the person who caused you to become intoxicated is found guilty by the court.

If your intoxication was caused by an adverse reaction to medication, then you may need to hire an expert witness who can testify in court that the prescription drug could have caused involuntary intoxication. In this case, you will also have to prove that you didn't know about this potential side effect or had any reason to know the medication would affect you in that manner.

There may be other ways you can prove your case. It's best to work with a criminal defense attorney who can help you put together a defense strategy and gather the necessary evidence that increases your chances of prevailing in court.