New DUI Defense: Too Drunk to Be Prosecuted?

Tags: Criminal Defense, DUI

It’s a relatively common for Birmingham DUI defense to argue that you are not guilty of a DUI because you weren’t intoxicated at the time of your arrest.


Less common: Attempting to argue you were so intoxicated you shouldn’t be held responsible for your actions.

However, that’s exactly the approach being taken by a growing number of DUI defendants, several of whom are pleading their cases to a New York appellate court. A decision is expected next month.

Generally, our Birmingham DUI defense lawyers would view this as highly risky – not something you’d want to attempt unless it seemed you had few other alternatives.

The New York Times recently chronicled the cases before the court.

One involved a man who had reportedly gone on a 10-hour drinking binge before driving his pickup truck the wrong way down a state parkway, killing a 7-year-old girl and a limousine driver. Another case involved a woman who took several hits of ecstasy, got into a naked screaming match with her mother and then drove away at 80-miles-per-hour with her headlights off, just prior to fatally striking a pedestrian. And lastly, one involved a man who got drunk at a nightclub, got into his car, and then hit a Jeep, killing the other driver.

All three were convicted of second-degree murder when prosecutors successfully showed they had exhibited “depraved indifference” to human life. However, New York state’s highest appellate court is reviewing the question now of whether it is possible that a person could be so drunk or intoxicated it isn’t possible for him or her to be in a conscious state of mind necessary to achieve “depraved indifference.”

Defense lawyers argued that their clients were too intoxicated to understand that what they were doing was wrong. They didn’t recognize the obvious threat they posed to other people, and therefore couldn’t be found guilty of the “depraved indifference” element necessary to secure a second-degree murder conviction.

As one attorney put it, no person who is not oblivious would plow head-on into another vehicle at 60 miles-per-hour without braking, unless he or she was suicidal. Prosecutors made no mention of the defendant being suicidal, and therefore, the only logical conclusion is that the defendant had no idea what was happening.

Meanwhile prosecutors argued that these were individuals who had the presence of mind to know they were harming others and yet did not care.

In 2006, the state’s Court of Appeals ruled that depraved indifference is a state of mind. Then in 2010, based on that finding, the appellate court ruled that a drunk driver was so intoxicated when he drove the wrong way down the highway that he was “oblivious” to the danger he created, and as such, he could not be considered to have exhibited a “depraved indifference” state of mind.

But that case didn’t exactly answer the question of whether reaching a certain height of intoxication renders one incapable of being responsible for his or her actions. That is the question now before the appellate court.


Additional Resources:
Drivers’ Defense: Too Drunk to Be Guilty, Oct. 8, 2013, By James C. McKinley Jr., The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Fatal DUI Charges May Be Dropped on Technicality, Sept. 18, 2013, Birmingham DUI Manslaughter Lawyer Blog

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