Cases Where Intoxication and Mistake of Fact were used as a Defense To Crime


This defense is often used in cases involving aggravated murder. While it does not completely exculpate the defendant of the charges of aggravated murder it may serve to lower the charge of aggravated murder to murder. In the case of State v Slagle, it was alleged that the defendant broke into the victim’s house, attempted to rape her and stabbed her multiple times before she died. The defense of intoxication was denied as the defendant did not portray any signs of intoxication upon his arrest or in the course of his detainment. Moreover, if the intoxication had indeed been present, which from all indications it was not, it was not to such an extent that it precluded the formation of the intent to commit the crime as was established by the account of the defendant’s actions during the commission of the crime.

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Despite the applicability of intoxication as a defense for aggravated murder, using it as a defense, in this case, was inappropriate due to the overwhelming amount of evidence that could prove the contrary. Intoxication should negate the elements of deliberation and premeditation. However, in the case of Slagle, there was a deliberate attempt to avoid detection by entering through the front window which was farthest from the victim’s bedroom and from the view of the family residing in the adjacent house. Moreover, Slagle’s movements in the house were stealthy, he exercised caution by removing his shoes to avoid detection and when he attempted to escape capture from the police he did so with speed and agility which is not typical of an intoxicated individual.

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His inability to prove that he was indeed intoxicated also rendered his attempt to cite a violation of due process without merit. This violation, hinged on his alleged intoxication and its capacity to prevent him from knowingly waiving his rights to remain silent and obtain an attorney. The intoxication having been proven to be absent this particular proposition was rejected.  I would argue this defense in specific cases where intoxication was involuntary and other more favorable defenses such as accident can serve as supporting defenses to preclude intent and negate the element of premeditation.

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Mistake of fact

Using this defense requires proving that the harm done was not caused by the defendant’s voluntary action. That the defendant lacked the mens rea required to commit the crime and that a reasonable man in the defendant’s position would have thought that things were as the defendant alleges them to be. This defense brings to mind the classic example of a man who takes an umbrella that does not belong to him without knowledge of the fact. This man is innocent because he lacks the intent to steal the umbrella. Mistake of fact is a defense if the commission of a crime results from ignorance on the part of the defendant and would not result in the commission of another crime if the things were as the defendant believed them to be.

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For instance, in the case of United States v Kairouz, the defendant arrived in Boston Airport with a girdle and an apron strapped to his waist which he believed concealed cocaine (class II controlled substance). Upon search by customs officials, five pounds of heroin (a class I controlled substance) were discovered. During his trial, the defendant maintained that he was under the erroneous assumption that the substance he was carrying was not heroin but cocaine. However, this defense was denied and the defendant was convicted of importation of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute said substance. This defense was not valid and completely inappropriate in this case since importing and being in possession of cocaine still carries the same sentence as importing and being in possession of heroin.

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Why the defense thought the defense of mistake of fact would be applicable in this case is difficult to elucidate. The defense of mistake of fact is not only an inappropriate defense for this case but also for cases where it seems likely that it would be looked upon favorably. For instance, take our classic case of the man with the umbrella, it is probable that the defense of mistake of fact could get him an acquittal should he be tried for larceny, but it would also open up an avenue for the defense to show evidence of the man’s familiarity with his own umbrella and thus, such mistake is unlikely. In my opinion, it would be much safer to argue that the man lacked the intent to steal the property of another and leave it at that.

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