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Can intoxication help someone defend against assault charges?

On Behalf of | Jun 28, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Assaults sometimes occur between strangers. Two people might reach for the last discounted laptop computer on Black Friday and end up fighting intensely over it. Social settings tend to contribute to the risk of violent interactions between individuals. People enjoying a few beers at a sports bar may start to take it personally when other patrons cheer for the opposing team.

Other assaults involve people who know each other. Those drinking with friends or family may recall old grievances or have a highly emotional reaction to something an acquaintance does. What starts as a verbal confrontation can quickly devolve into physical violence.

At that point, police officers may arrive and arrest someone. People sometimes get arrested after the fact because the other party involved reports the matter to the police. Quite a few assault cases in Pennsylvania begin with people having a little bit too much to drink. Can the context of alcohol intoxication or possibly drug use help people fight back against assault charges?

State law articulates clear rules

There are certain scenarios in which people can eliminate or at least mitigate criminal intent. Someone accused of assault because they defended an old lady from a mugging could claim to have acted in self-defense. People experiencing severe mental health challenges can sometimes raise a claim of diminished capacity as a way to avoid criminal responsibility.

It might make sense to assume that chemical intoxication also diminishes criminal culpability. However, that is simply not the case. In fact, state law explicitly indicates that the opposite is true. Someone who voluntarily consumes alcohol or other mind-altering drugs cannot use their intoxication to limit their culpability for criminal actions.

In other words, being drunk at the time of a fistfight does not protect someone from the prosecution. Unless someone has compelling evidence that they were unaware of the alcohol or drugs they consumed, their chemical state at the time of an incident is unlikely to play much of a role in their overall defense strategy.

That being said, there are many other potential defense strategies to consider. From challenging the state’s evidence to establishing certain mitigating factors, there are ways for people to reduce their chances of a criminal conviction after an assault charge. Learning more about criminal statutes can help people put together a viable criminal defense strategy before trial. Those hoping to prove their innocence need to understand what the law permits before going to court.


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