The Voluntary Intoxication Instruction in Maryland

Usually a defendant cannot blame drunkenness or intoxication for his or her criminal conduct. However, in Maryland, as in other states, a defendant can ask that the jury receive a voluntary intoxication instruction when he or she is charged with a specific intent crime. A specific intent crime is one in which the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act in such a way that he or she would cause a specific result. One such crime is first-degree murder.

This instruction is appropriate if a defendant can show evidence of “great intoxication” sufficient to negate the element of specific intent. It is not enough for the defense to show the judge that a defendant drank alcohol before performing the actions that led to a criminal charge. Rather, the evidence of great intoxication must be sufficient for the judge to allow a jury to find that he did not have the necessary mental faculties to act with specific intent.

In a case about this issue decided last year, the defendant drank at least three 40 oz. cans of beer and then went to a mall to drink more alcohol. When he left the mall he was stabbed six or seven times. At the hospital, his BAC was measured at .157. He told a detective he’d been attacked by one man and woman on a footbridge. While the defendant was asleep at the hospital, he was recognized by an acquaintance that claimed that the defendant had actually attacked him.

At trial, the defendant denied the attack and said he was so drunk he couldn’t recall some of his own behavior. A witness had said he looked like he was about to pass out. The defendant requested a jury instruction on voluntary intoxication but the judge denied the request. The defendant was found guilty of attempted second degree murder, attempted armed carjacking and first-degree assault and subsequently appealed. In addition to another issue, the appellate court considered whether the trial judge should have given the jury an instruction on voluntary intoxication.

The State argued that the evidence of his intoxication only showed his functioning was impaired, not that he was incapable of forming the intent to cause certain results. The appellate court agreed noting that, in another case, expert testimony had been offered to show a defendant could not form specific intent. In this case, the mere evidence of consumption with no evidence regarding the effect on the defendant in particular, was not enough. According to the court, even the evidence that the defendant was almost twice the legal driving limit wasn’t enough to allow the jury to rationally conclude the defendant was so impaired he could not actually intend the effect of his crimes.

The appellate court also analyzed the details that the defendant did offer to show why they weren’t sufficient to bring the defense before the jury. With respect to the witness’ testimony that the defendant was bleeding and about to pass out, the court stated that this testimony referred to his injured state, not necessarily his level of intoxication.

The appellate court also reasoned that some of what the defendant testified was not consistent with his defense—specifically he was able to recognize the gender of the two people who attacked him. He was also able to locate his friend’s house. He was also able to speak intelligibly. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s refusal to give the instruction.

If you are accused of a crime, an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney  can help you determine the best defense for your case. Contact Anthony A. Fatemi and his legal team for a free consultation at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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Maryland Court Rules Assault May Occur Even Victims Not Present, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 10. 2013

Maryland Appellate Court Rules Against Defendant Who Cut a Police Dog, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 7, 2013


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