The Intoxication Defense and your DWI case


The Intoxication Defense and your DWI case

Is intoxication a defense to your DWI case? You might automatically think the answer is "No, of course not" but like most things in the law, the answer is a little more complcated.

Under New York Penal Law Section 15.25, intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge- but in any prosecution for an offense, evidence of intoxication may be offered by the defense if it is relevant to negate an element of the crime charged. For example, in determining whether a person has the intent and/or knowledge necessary to commit a crime a court may consider whether that person's mind was affected by alcohol to such a degree that he or she was not capable of forming the intent and/or knowledge to commit the crime. When it comes to DWI's, evidence of intoxication comes commonly comes into play in two situations: 1) whether the intoxication itself was voluntary, and 2) whether statements made after an arrest were involuntary as a result of the intoxication.

In the first situation, under New York DWI law, only voluntary intoxication can lead to an arrest for DWI. People v. Koch, 250 A.D. 623 (2d Dept. 1937). Likewise, the New York Court of Appeals in People v. Cruz said that "intoxication is a greater degree of impairment which is reached when the driver has voluntarily consumed alcohol to the extent that he is incapable of employing the physical and mental abilities which he is expected to possess in order to operate a vehicle as a reasonable and prudent driver." 48 N.Y. 2d 419, 428 (1979). Therefore, intoxication must be voluntary in order to be arrested and charged for DWI. It is also important to know that alcoholism and being a chronic alcoholic will not be a defense to driving while intoxicated. People v. Starowicz, 207 A.D. 2d 994 (4th Dept. 1994).

In the second situation, the Second Department has said that "where a defendant's mental state is such that he cannot understand the nature of the Miranda warnings then statements made must be suppressed." People v. Turkenich, 137 A.D. 2d 363 (2d Dept. 1988). This is true even if intoxication is self-induced.

People v. Schompert laid out two main factors in considering whether statements made while drunk will render them involuntary. 19 N.Y. 2d 300 (1967). The first is lack of understanding at the time of confession so that you are unable to appreciate what you are saying. The second is whether what you are saying is accurate. In other words, if you can show that you were so intoxicated to a degree of "mania" that you could not understand the meaning of what you told police then your confession could be ruled as involuntary. Generally, however intoxication alone will not usually render statements involuntary. The intoxication must be to such a high degree so that you cannot understand the meaning of your statements.

Still, intoxication could, under the right circumstances, prevent a damning confession from being used against you in your DWI case which could lead to a dismissal of your case.

If you're facing DWI charges in New York City, contact New York DWI Defense Attorneys at the The Law Offices of Lance Fletcher 212-619-3900 for a case evualuation.