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Is Intoxication a Defense to Committing a Crime in Arizona?

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In Arizona, facing criminal charges is a daunting and complex journey. The moments leading up to an alleged crime can be filled with confusion and fear, especially when intoxication is involved.

Understanding the law surrounding the impact of intoxication on criminal responsibility is crucial for those arrested and facing a criminal charge.

Skilled attorneys at Colburn Hintze Maletta (CHM) stand ready to guide individuals through this challenging process with expertise and compassion.

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Intoxication Defense in Arizona

Understanding Intoxication as a Legal Defense

Under Arizona law, a clear distinction is made between voluntary and involuntary intoxication and their use as defenses in criminal proceedings.

Voluntary Intoxication and Its Limits

Voluntary intoxication, where an individual consciously consumes alcohol or drugs, is generally not a defense against committing an offense (State v. Hudson, 85 Ariz. 77; State v. Kabinto, 106 Ariz. 575). 

Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) 13-503 highlights the effect of alcohol or drug use, emphasizing that voluntary intoxication does not excuse criminal conduct.

Exceptions and Specific Circumstances

There are nuanced exceptions, particularly in cases of specific intent crimes.

For instance, in scenarios involving alleged assault with intent to murder, intoxication may be considered to determine the accused’s ability to form a deliberate and premeditated intent to kill (Hackett v. Territory, 5 Ariz. 251).


Involuntary Intoxication as a Defense

Involuntary intoxication stands on different legal grounds.

This defense applies when intoxication results from the non-abusive use of prescription medication, as per a doctor’s instructions, and can negate the mental state required for a crime. (State v. Leteve, 237 Ariz. 516).

Arizona courts also recognize involuntary intoxication to challenge specific intent in crimes, provided it’s shown that such intoxication rendered the defendant incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent.

Illustrative Example: Voluntary vs. Involuntary Intoxication

To better understand the distinction between voluntary and involuntary intoxication in the context of Arizona law, let’s consider a hypothetical example:

The Hypothetical Case of Alex and Jordan

Alex spends an evening at a local bar and consumes several drinks. Feeling emboldened by the alcohol, Alex gets into a confrontation and assaults another patron.

This action is a result of voluntary intoxication, as Alex chose to consume alcohol and then engaged in criminal behavior.

Under Arizona law, Alex’s state of intoxication from his consumption of alcohol would not serve as a defense to the assault charge because the intoxication was voluntary.

Alex’s decision to drink and subsequent aggressive behavior illustrates how voluntary intoxication complicates the legal defense, typically leaving the individual fully accountable for their actions.

In contrast, Jordan is at a friend’s house, where they unknowingly consume a beverage spiked with a potent drug. Unaware of the intoxication, Jordan becomes disoriented and unintentionally damages property.

In this scenario, Jordan’s intoxication is involuntary—a critical factor that significantly affects legal defense.

Arizona recognizes involuntary intoxication as a potential defense if it can be proven that Jordan was incapable of understanding or controlling their actions due to the drug’s effects. 

This defense hinges on the lack of intent and knowledge regarding the intoxication, offering a potential exoneration path.

Legal Implications and Defense Strategies

These scenarios underscore the legal system’s nuanced approach to intoxication:

  • Voluntary Intoxication: The law clearly states that voluntary intoxication does not excuse criminal behavior. However, it might impact sentencing or be considered in cases requiring specific intent to commit a crime.
    • Legal strategies might focus on mitigating circumstances or negotiating pleas rather than directly defending against the charges. 
  • Involuntary Intoxication: This condition introduces a viable defense, especially when it negates the requisite mental state for the crime.
    • Defense strategies may involve medical evidence, witness testimony, and expert analysis to prove the lack of knowledge and control over one’s actions due to involuntary intoxication. 

The distinction between voluntary and involuntary intoxication highlights the importance of intent and knowledge in criminal liability.

It also emphasizes the critical role of skilled legal representation from lawyers at firms like Colburn Hintze Maletta in navigating these complex defenses. 

Understanding the nuances of each case, CHM is adept at crafting strategies that address the specific circumstances and legal implications of intoxication-related charges.

The Impact of Preexisting Conditions

When assessing the role of intoxication in criminal conduct, Arizona courts take into account not just the act of becoming intoxicated but also how preexisting mental conditions might influence an individual’s susceptibility to intoxicants.

This nuanced approach can significantly affect the outcome of cases where intent is a pivotal element.

The Hypothetical Scenario Involving Chris

Consider the case of Chris, a fictional individual with a diagnosed neurological condition that affects their cognitive functioning and impulse control. Chris is on medication to manage this condition, which, unknown to them, interacts adversely with alcohol.

One evening, Chris consumes a moderate amount of alcohol at a social gathering. 

The combination of their medication and the alcohol severely impairs Chris’s judgment and behavior, leading to an altercation and subsequent charges of assault.

Legal Considerations and Defense

In this hypothetical scenario, Chris’s defense team can argue that due to their preexisting neurological condition and the unforeseen interaction with alcohol, Chris lacked the requisite intent to commit assault. 

This argument draws on legal precedents such as the case of State v. James Robinson, where the courts acknowledged that a defendant’s susceptibility to intoxicants, due to a preexisting condition, could impact their capacity to form intent.

Evidence could include medical records, expert testimony on Chris’s condition, and the unpredictable effects of the medication when combined with alcohol.

 This approach doesn’t excuse the criminal behavior but seeks to provide a context that may mitigate responsibility or lead to alternative sentencing.


In Arizona, the defense of intoxication in criminal cases is nuanced. Significant legal penalties depend on the nature of the intoxication and the specific charges.

While voluntary intoxication rarely serves as a complete defense, nuances in the law and exceptions, particularly around involuntary intoxication and specific intent crimes, highlight the complexity of these cases.

Colburn Hintze Maletta is a law firm that provides expert legal guidance, ensuring that those accused of crimes, where intoxication is a factor, receive a defense that is both compassionate and legally sound. 

Facing criminal charges is never easy, but with CHM, you’re not alone on this journey. Our goal is to navigate the legal system with you, offering support, expertise, and hope every step of the way. Contact us today for a free consultation at (602) 825-2500.

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