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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78834 Find in a Library
Title: Alcohol - Both Blame and Excuse for Criminal Behavior
Author(s): J F Mosher
Corporate Author: University of California, Berkley
School of Public Health
Social Research Group
United States of America
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 33
Sponsoring Agency: National Institute of Justice/
Rockville, MD 20849
University of California, Berkley
Berkeley, CA 94720
US Dept of Health and Human Services
Rockville, MD 20892-9304
Grant Number: AA-03524
Sale Source: National Institute of Justice/
NCJRS paper reproduction
Box 6000, Dept F
Rockville, MD 20849
United States of America
Document: PDF
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The role of alcohol in various criminal proceedings is analyzed, beginning with a discussion of the basic legal rule of intoxication as applied in criminal trials and continuing with discussions of an exception to the rule, punishment of drinking behavior, and the role of alcohol in probation and diversion hearings.
Abstract: Recent cases in which prominent political figures sought to excuse their illegal behavior on the grounds that they were alcoholics have highlighted the importance of these issues. The basic precept of criminal law is that voluntary intoxication does not excuse criminal behavior. The most common rationale for this rule is that an intoxication defense can be easily simulated, thus making prosecutions too difficult. The 'specific intent' exception, according to which crimes such as first degree murder require a special willfulness and thus can be mitigated by drunkenness, contains two basic problems. When the exception is applied to nonhomicide cases it can provide a complete defense rather than the mere mitigation which was intended. Moreover, in terms of actual behavior, general intent involves essentially the same mental process as specific intent. Two case examples illustrate these problems. In contrast to the limited specific intent exception, a body of criminal law exists which actually imposes additional hardships or penalties on the drinking defendant. The most obvious examples are public drunkenness statutes and drunk driving statutes. In addition, case decisions show that drunkenness defenses are usually unsuccessful in sex offense cases even when permitted. Despite the moralistic view which prevails when criminal guilt is being determined, an entirely different dogma concerning intoxication and alcoholism is applied at probation and diversion hearings, which have recently tended toward reliance on alcoholism treatment. However, social class and other factors unrelated to the actual drinking problem largely determine the decision to grant treatment-oriented diversion. Thus, alcoholism ideologies provide explanations for various antisocial acts and serve important roles in the criminal law. Implementation of a fair alcohol excuse in the criminal law will be impossible, however, until the underlying factors determining criminal guilt and punishment are acknowledged, analyzed, and reformed. Footnotes, case and statute citations, and a list of 51 references are provided.
Index Term(s): Alcohol-Related Offenses; Criminal intent; Criminal proceedings; Criminal responsibility; Probation or parole decisionmaking
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