In the United States, our criminal justice system makes a point of focusing more on criminal acts that were intentionally done than on those that were accidental. Because of this focus on a defendant’s mental state, many crimes in the U.S. and in Maine have a mens rea requirement. Latin for “guilty mind,” the mens rea component of a particular crime depends on the criminal statute or on prior cases interpreting the statute, and requires the prosecutor to show that the defendant had a culpable mind while committing the allegedly criminal act.
However, an important issue is the effect that intoxication has on mens rea. After all, one of the crucial components of drugs or alcohol is that it alters your state of mind, making it more difficult for you to create an intention or to knowingly do something.
Crucially, Maine recognizes that there are four different levels of mens rea – you can act intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence. Different crimes require different mental states. For example, murder requires you to act intentionally or knowingly, while manslaughter only requires you to act recklessly or negligently. This often results in harsher penalties for crimes that are committed with highly culpable minds than for those that are committed accidentally.
When you get intoxicated, though, determining your mental state becomes more difficult. You’re less able to make decisions or appreciate the consequences of your actions when you drink heavily or do drugs.
The intoxication law in Maine recognizes this. That’s why it allows voluntary intoxication to be a complete defense to criminal charges when the crime requires you to intentionally or knowingly commit a crime. However, if the crime only requires that you act recklessly or with criminal negligence, then whether you were intoxicated or not becomes irrelevant.
However, just showing that you were acting under the influence does not end the case if you’ve been charged with a crime that requires intent or knowledge of what you were doing. Instead, it merely shifts the burden of proof back onto the prosecutor to show that you were either not sufficiently intoxicated, or that you were still able to form the necessary mens rea.
This is exactly what happened in the case State v. Gallant. In that case, the defendant was convicted of murder even after raising an intoxication defense because of a history of domestic violence with the victim, as well as things he said after the murder that showed he knew what he did, and the fact that he strangled the victim well past the point where she lost consciousness. Each one of these facts showed that, despite being drunk at the time of the murder, circumstances showed that he was still able to form the requisite intent.
Defending a criminal charge with an intoxication defense is tricky, because it relies on the ambiguities and difficulties that are inherent in figuring out what was going through a person’s mind. That’s why it’s important to have a solid criminal defense attorney at your side throughout the process. Contact the law office of William T. Bly by calling (207) 571-8146 or by contacting him online.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
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