Is Intoxication a Defense to Criminal Activity in Texas?

August 6th, 2018 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

In criminal defense law, proof of insanity can serve to absolve a defendant of guilt. Indeed, the Texas Penal Code expressly recognizes an insanity defense based on “severe mental disease or defect.” But what about temporary insanity prompted by intoxication? In other words, if you get drunk and end up committing a crime, can you cite intoxication as proof you were legally insane at the time of the offense?

Man Receives 15-Year Burglary Sentence After Judge Denies “Temporary Insanity” Instruction

The short answer to this question is “no.” Section 8.04 of the Penal Code states quite clearly, “Voluntary intoxication does not constitute a defense to the commission of crime.” However, you can introduce evidence of intoxication-based temporary insanity “in mitigation of the penalty attached to the offense.” So while getting drunk does not entitle you to an acquittal, it may help lessen your sentence.

But there is an important caveat: A Texas court will not instruct a jury on temporary insanity if you were still capable of understanding right or wrong when you committed the alleged crime. The fact that alcohol may lower your inhibitions is not, in and of itself, sufficient to support a temporary insanity defense.

Here is an illustration of this point. This is taken from Johnson v. State, a recent unpublished decision by a Texas appeals court. Prosecutors charged the defendant with burglary. He entered a guilty plea as to the crime and opted for a jury trial on sentence.

The defendant testified he was taking Xanax, a prescription tranquilizer, at the time of the burglary. He said he would not have committed the crime but for his “intoxicated” state. Based on this, the defendant’s attorney asked the judge for a jury instruction on intoxication-based temporary insanity. The judge denied the instruction, and the jury subsequently sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison.

The Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s ruling and the 15-year sentence. The appellate court cited the defendant’s own testimony against him. Specifically, the defendant told the jury, “I can’t say that I didn’t understand it was wrong, because that would be a lie. I did understand it was wrong. But before I knew it, I was just, I mean, I was kind of over there doing it.” By conceding he knew burglary was wrong as he was committing the offense, the Court of Appeals said the defendant was not entitled to his jury instruction.

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