Voluntary intoxication may be a defense to aggravated assaults consisting of attempts to cause bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:12-1(b)(2). Intoxication could exonerate those otherwise guilty of burglaries and criminal trespass. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:18-2; 2C:18-3. It would be an available defense to arson, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:17-1, robbery, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:19-1, and theft, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-3. It could reduce murder to manslaughter, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:11-3, 2C:11-4, and excuse shoplifting, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-11(b). The Code would also permit the incongruous result of permitting intoxication to be a complete defense to an attempted sexual assault (rape), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:5-1, but not of a completed sexual assault, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:14-2.
A man pulled out a knife demanding $80 from the cashier at a bar he frequented. He was arrested because of this. According to witnesses, his speech nor his mannerisms indicated drunkenness. He did not appear drunk and that he had not noticed any odor of alcohol on defendant's breath. During trial, he made this decision not to testify on the stand. In an earlier conference in chambers at which defense counsel had advised the court that his defense would be that defendant had been so intoxicated that he was incapable of forming the intent to rob. In an unrecorded conference in chambers, the trial court had declared that it would charge that voluntary intoxication was not a defense to any act by defendant despite defendant's proffer of proof that he had been in a bar from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., that he had been drinking all day, and that he did not remember the assault. On appeal, the appellate court reversed defendant's conviction and suspended sentence for assault with intent to rob and assault while being armed with a dangerous knife. The case was appealed to Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Can voluntary intoxication constitute a defense to a crime when one of the elements of the crime is intent?
The Court ruled that although evidence in the record demonstrated that defendant assaulted the victim while possessed with a knife and that his mental faculties were not prostrated, the trial court should have waited until the issue of voluntary intoxication was reached at trial before ruling that it would charge that it was not a defense to any act of the defendant. It added that unless an exception to the general rule was applicable, voluntary intoxication would not excuse criminal conduct. Voluntary intoxication could be introduced to demonstrate that premeditation and deliberation had not been proven so that second degree murder could not be raised to first degree murder or to show that the intoxication led to a fixed state of insanity. Intoxication could be shown to prove that a defendant never participated in a crime and could be considered as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing a defendant.