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Florida Criminal Law: Is Voluntary Intoxication a Defense in Florida?

Prior to 1999, Florida law recognized a defense of voluntary intoxication for specific intent crimes. The rationale was that when a specific or particular intent was an essential element of the offense, the jury could consider whether the defendant’s intoxication impaired his or her ability to form the specific intent to commit the crime.

In other words, Florida courts held, "Where a party is too drunk to entertain or be capable of forming the essential particular intent [to commit the crime], such intent can of course not exist, and no offense of which such intent is a necessary ingredient, [can] be perpetrated." Garner v. State, 9 So. 835 (1891).

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Voluntary Intoxication is No Longer a Defense to Crimes in Florida

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In 1999, the Florida Legislature abolished voluntary intoxication as a defense to any crime. Section 775.051, Florida Statutes, provides that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to criminal conduct and cannot be used to show that the defendant lacked the specific intent to commit a crime. Evidence of voluntary intoxication is also inadmissible to show that the defendant was insane at the time of the offense.

The statute covers voluntary intoxication resulting from the consumption, injection, or other use of alcohol or other controlled substance as described in Chapter 893, Florida Statutes. Section 775.051 abolished the voluntary intoxication defense for offenses committed after July 1, 1999.

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Is There an Exception for Involuntary Intoxication?

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The statute abolishing voluntary intoxication as a defense contains an exception that applies when the defendant consumed, injected or used a controlled substance pursuant to a lawful prescription issued to the defendant by a practitioner as defined under Florida law. The exception applies where the defendant unexpectedly becomes intoxicated by prescribed medication that is taken in a lawful manner.

Florida courts have held that "an accused may be completely relieved of criminal responsibility if, because of involuntary intoxication, he was temporarily rendered legally insane at the time he committed the offense. Brancaccio v. State, 698 So. 2d 597 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997). Where the defendant’s intoxication is involuntary, it is typically used to prove an insanity defense rather than an intoxication defense. "The definition of insanity has been expanded to include those situations in which a person could not distinguish right from wrong as the result of an involuntarily-induced intoxicated state." Miller v. State, 805 So. 2sd 885 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).

The exception does not apply, however, where the defendant has abused the prescribed medication by knowingly exceeding the prescribed dosage. Under the language of the statute, the exception also would not apply where the defendant takes medication not prescribed to him or her, or ingests a controlled substance that was not administered pursuant to a "lawful" prescription or was "prescribed" by someone who was not a practitioner as defined by Florida law.

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