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Intoxication Defense for Domestic Violence Charges

People can make bad decisions when they are under the influence of alcohol. Many people have woken up the day after a big night out and do not remember what happened or have a hazy memory. Friends, photos, and other evidence may trigger some memories of what happened, leading to embarrassment, shame, or regret. 

Intoxication is a possible defense to criminal charges but it is rare. After an arrest, addressing substance abuse issues may help reduce the penalties associated with a conviction. If you were arrested for domestic violence in Oakland or the East Bay, talk to an experienced California criminal defense attorney about your rights and legal options. 

Intoxication as a Legal Defense

Under California domestic violence laws, the elements for simple battery against a spouse, cohabitation, or fellow parent include proving: 

  1. The defendant willfully and unlawfully touched in a harmful or offensive manner; 
  2. The victim suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the force used; and
  3. The defendant did not act in self-defense or in defense of someone else

Someone commits an act willfully when they do it willingly or on purpose. This is known as a “specific intent” crime. Specific intent means the defendant committed the act intentionally. If the defendant never intended to touch the victim in a harmful manner, they may not have committed domestic violence. It doesn't require that the defendant intended to cause serious injury or harm, just that they intended to touch in a harmful or offensive manner. 

Intoxication can be a defense to specific intent crimes where the defendant is not found liable because their mind was in a compromised state and could not form the necessary criminal intent. However, the intoxication defense can depend on whether it is voluntary or involuntary. 

Voluntary or Involuntary Intoxication

Voluntary intoxication is someone who voluntarily drinks alcohol or consumes drugs, or both. Involuntary intoxication can involve someone who drinks something that is unknowingly spiked with another drug. With involuntary intoxication, a person can be under the influence of alcohol or drugs without their knowledge or consent. 

Involuntary intoxication can be a defense to domestic violence charges where someone was drugged and was not aware of their actions while under the influence. However, this requires showing the jury that intoxication was not voluntary. This can be difficult to prove without evidence that someone drugged the defendant. 

Voluntary intoxication is generally not a strong defense because a jury may not believe that someone did something they never intended just because they were intoxicated when the intoxication was voluntary. However, addressing any substance abuse issues can help the defendant show that they regret their actions and are taking steps to prevent future abuse. 

Seeking Substance Abuse Treatment After an Arrest

If a defendant voluntarily seeks out substance abuse treatment after an arrest, this can impact their sentencing. Judges in California generally go by sentencing guidelines when imposing a sentence for a criminal conviction. However, the judge has some discretion within sentencing guidelines to impose a sentence between the minimum and maximum. 

There are many factors that go into sentencing, including mitigating factors and aggravating factors. Mitigating factors can reduce the penalties and aggravating factors can increase penalties. Mitigating factors in a domestic violence conviction can include: 

  • Defendant lacked substantial capacity for judgment
  • Defendant found their spouse or partner in an intimate relationship with someone else
  • Defendant was a victim of abuse
  • Defendant has a mental illness, such as PTSD
  • Defendant was defending someone else
  • Defendant shows genuine remorse 
  • Defendant accepts responsibility for their actions

Some judges can be swayed by a defendant who shows remorse and accepts responsibility for their actions. This can include voluntarily seeking out substance abuse treatment or anger management counseling. If the defendant is sincere, the judge may have the impression that the defendant takes this issue seriously and is taking proactive action to address the underlying problems and make sure something like this never happens again. This can reduce the penalties associated with a domestic violence conviction. 

If you want to know about how to seek out substance abuse treatment after an arrest or if your actions can help reduce your penalties or get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor, talk to your East Bay criminal defense attorney. Your California domestic violence defense lawyer will be familiar with the judge in your case and can give you legal advice on the best defense strategies for your situation.  

The Link Between Alcohol and Violence in California

Many people draw a distinction between “happy drunks” and “angry drunks.” Studies have shown a relationship between alcohol consumption and violent or aggressive behavior. According to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol may encourage aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function.”

Based on other published studies, the percentage of violent offenders who were drinking at the time of the offense includes: 

  • 57% of men and 27% of women involved in marital violence
  • 86% of homicide offenders
  • 37% of assault offenders
  • 60% of sexual offenders
  • 13% of child abusers

According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Two-thirds of victims who suffered violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor. Among spouse victims, 3 out of 4 incidents were reported to have involved an offender who had been drinking.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates, “Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of injuries, including those from motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns. It increases the risk of violence, including homicide, suicide, and sexual assault.” 

Contact an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

If you were drunk or even blacked out when you were arrested for domestic abuse, intoxication may not be a strong defense. However, your criminal defense lawyer can help you evaluate other defense strategies to reduce charges or avoid a conviction. 

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of DUI defense experience and understands the challenges involved in domestic violence cases. Contact a local criminal defense lawyer who understands defense strategies and plea bargain negotiations.

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