DWIs and Involuntary Intoxication in Texas
Involuntary intoxication occurs in instances where a person tricks another person into taking drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, a common example of this when a person slips a drug, usually a sedative, into another person’s drink. Legally, involuntary intoxication can be used as a defense for crimes that require a culpable mental state or criminal intent. Strict liability offenses, such as a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), do not require a culpable, or blameworthy, mental state in order for a person to be charged with that crime. Therefore, involuntary intoxication is not a defense to a DWI.
What is a Strict Liability Offense?
To explain further, the Texas Penal Code states the definitions of crimes. Within those definitions are elements, or requirements, that must be satisfied in order for a person to be charged with a specific crime. Some crimes, such as murder, require in its definition that a person have a culpable, or blameworthy, mental state at the time he or she committed an offense. In order words, some crimes require that a person have a guilty state of mind when he or she commits a crime. Some crimes, however, do not require that a person have a culpable mental state when he or she commits a crime. A strict liability offense does not require that a person have a guilty state of mind at the time he or she commits an offense. Strict liability offenses are designed to protect the public health, safety, or welfare. Therefore, when someone commits a strict liability offense, he or she is putting the public at risk so he or she is held criminally responsible for that act. One example of a strict liability offense is a DWI or Driving While Intoxicated.
What is a DWI?
Texas Penal Code Section 49.04 states that a person commits a DWI “if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” As previously mentioned, the definition of a DWI does not contain a requirement that the person have a criminal mental state because a DWI is a strict liability offense. Rather, the definition only states that the person (1) be intoxicated, (2) while operating a motor vehicle, (3) in a public place. If those three requirements are met, a person can be charged with a DWI. This is because an intoxicated driver is extremely dangerous to the public so a person is held criminally liable for just committing the act of driving while intoxicated; even if the person did not have the intent to commit a crime.
What Does the Law Consider Intoxicated?
The Texas Penal Code Section 49.01 defines a person as intoxicated when he or she does not have “the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol… or any other substance into the body.” In Texas, a person is also legally intoxicated with a 0.08 BAC (blood or breath alcohol concentration) and above.
Involuntary Intoxication as a Defense
The Court of Appeals of Texas in Peavy v. State explained that involuntary intoxication is a defense to criminal culpability, or guilt, when it is shown that: (1) the accused exercised no independent judgment in taking the intoxicant; and (2) as a result of his intoxication, the accused did not know that his conduct was wrong or was incapable of conforming his conduct to the requirement of the law he allegedly violated. This defense, however, does not apply when the accused’s mental state is not an element, or requirement, of the offense. As mentioned before, the definition of a DWI does not require a culpable mental state. Therefore, the courts have held that involuntary intoxication is not a defense to a DWI. As a result, even though a person may become intoxicated through no fault of his own because he unknowingly consumed a drug that was slipped into his drink, the law still holds him responsible for driving while intoxicated if he gets behind the wheel despite feeling or being impaired.
DON’T MISS: Everything you need to know about DWIs in Texas
Do I Have a Defense to a DWI if Someone Slipped Something in My Drink?
Separate and distinct from the involuntary intoxication defense is the involuntary act defense. Texas Penal Code Section 6.01 states that a person commits an offense only if he voluntarily engages in conduct. While the involuntary intoxication defense addresses a person’s state of mind; the involuntary act defense addresses the issue of the voluntariness of one’s conduct. When a person claims the involuntary act defense, he is conceding that his own body made the motion but denies responsibility for it. In other words, in order to raise the involuntary act defense, a person must admit to committing the act or acts charged while seeking to absolve himself of criminal responsibility. In order to assert involuntary act as a defense, however, the person must produce evidence of an independent event, such as the conduct of a third party, that could have caused the incident. Mere speculation, however, is not sufficient to meet this standard. Additionally, if a person consumes any alcohol during the time the alleged drugging took place, the court may not allow an involuntary act defense because the person voluntarily consumed the alcohol.
In Howey v. State, the defendant alleged that a person spiked her alcoholic drink at the Hard Rock Café in Dallas. However, there was no evidence beyond this allegation. As a result, the court rejected an involuntary act defense because (1) the defendant voluntarily consumed alcohol during the time which the alleged drugging took place and (2) there was no evidence beyond mere speculation that the drink was spiked.
To summarize, even though a person may become intoxicated because someone slipped something in his drink, it may be difficult to prove an involuntary act defense if the person had any alcohol during the time in question and/or cannot prove that the conduct of a third party caused the intoxication or impairment. Before a defendant is entitled to a charge on voluntariness of conduct, “there must be evidence of an independent event, such as the conduct of a third party, that could have precipitated the incident.”
What Can I Do if I am Charged with a DWI and Suspect That Someone Slipped Something in My Drink?
If you have been charged with driving while intoxication but suspect that you became impaired unknowingly because someone may have spiked your drink, give us a call to discuss the defenses other than involuntary intoxication that can be raised and to ask about our experiences taking these cases to trial. (817) 203-2220.