Intoxication as a Ground of Defence to a Criminal Prosecution – Explained!

Section 85 lays down that nothing is an offence which is done by a person who at the time of doing it is, by reason of intoxication incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law: provided that the thing which intoxicated him was administered to him without his knowledge or against his Will.

Section 86 provides that in cases where an act done is not an offence unless done with a particular knowledge or intent, a person who does the act in a state of intoxication shall be liable to be dealt with as if he had the same knowledge as he would have had if he had not been intoxicated, unless the thing which intoxicated him was administered to him without his knowledge or against his will.

It may be seen that the latter section is but an implication of the former. In Bablu v. State of Rajasthan} held that Section 85 of IPC deals with act of a person incapable of judgment by reason of intoxication caused against his will.

Voluntary drunkenness is no defence to a criminal charge. In a case the plea of the accused was that liquor was administered to him against his will by A and B as a result of which he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act that he might have committed.

But the accused did not examine A or B. Supreme Court held that the accused failed to establish his defence. But in voluntary drunkenness and the persistent drunkenness leading to insanity usually described as delirium tremens stand on the same footing and will be defence to a charge if they satisfy the terms of Section 84 of the Code. Where, of course, an offence requires a particular knowledge or intent, a drunken person will be presumed to have that knowledge as if he was not drunk.

Such a presumption is not drawn with reference to the formation of the intent. But it would be noticed that if a person knew the natural consequences of what he did, he would be presumed also to have had the intention of causing such consequences.

But knowledge and intention need not always necessarily coincide. In practical working it may be seen that in the offence of criminal trespass under Section 441 of the Code it is the intention of the accused that is material.

If an accused is charged with such an offence for the reason that it was found in the house of the complainant, without the consent of the complainant, then the accused will be guilty even if he was drunk for the presumption of knowledge of the consequences of his act in spite of the protest or unwillingness of the complainant leads necessarily to the intention requisite for offence.

It cannot be otherwise when once presumption as to knowledge is drawn. On the other hand if the accused is charged with criminal trespass with the intention of committing theft and if he was drunk at the material time, different considerations will arise.

Even if it be that the intent to commit the offence of trespass may be inferred on account of presumption of knowledge on his part, the further intent to steal or commit the offence of theft is not so inferable. There is no scope in the section to draw as it were a double inference of intention, intention to commit trespass and intention to steal, the one being distinct from the other.

To charge the accused, therefore, of an offence of trespass with intent to commit theft, apart from proving the offence of trespass the prosecution must lead evidence to prove his intention to commit theft as otherwise the charge is bound to fail.

Voluntary drunkenness is no defence for the commission of the crime. About voluntary intoxication the Supreme Court has explained in the case of Ram Shankar v. State of M.P., that such intoxication is no defence against criminal liability but it is a considerable fact to reduce the punishment.

But when drunkenness is involuntary as intoxicant is administered through fraud, or against his Will or without his knowledge, his criminal act would be judged with reference to his mental condition at the time the act was committed. In other words, such act will be judged on the same footing as the act of person of unsound mind.

Because words used in Sections 84 and 85 are identical and all the considerations that arise in the case of insanity (i.e., Section 84) also arise in case of involuntary drunkenness.

Discussing drunkenness as a defence from criminal liability the Supreme Court in case, Bablu v. State of Rajasthan, has held that the defence of drunkenness can be availed of only where intoxication produces such a condition as the accused loses the requisite intention for the offence. The Supreme Court further observed:

“Basically, three propositions as regards the scopes of Section 85, IPC are as follows:

(i) The insanity whether produced by drunkenness or otherwise is a defence to the crime charged;

(ii) Evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into account with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent; and

(iii) The evidence of drunkenness falling short of a proved incapacity in the accused to form the intent necessary to constitute the crime and merely establishing that his mind is affected by drink so that he more readily give to some violent passion, does not rebut the presumption that a man intends the natural consequences of his act.”

In this case the accused killed his wife, three daughters and son. The Supreme Court held that the plea of drunkenness can never be an excuse for the brutal diabolic acts of the accused.

Illustrative Cases:

In Basdev v. State of Pepsu, the Supreme Court held: So far as knowledge is concerned the Court must attribute to the intoxicated man the same knowledge as if he was quite sober, but so far as intent or intention is concerned, the Court must gather it from the attending general circumstances of the case paying due regard to the degree of intoxication. The Court observed further: That rule of law is well settled —

(1) That insanity, whether produced by drunkenness or otherwise, is a defence to the crime charged;

(2) That evidence of drunkenness which renders the accused incapable of forming the specific intent essential to constitute the crime should be taken into consideration with the other facts proved in order to determine whether or not he had this intent;

(3) The evidence of drunkenness falling short of proved incapacity in the accused to form the intent necessary to constitute the crime, and merely establishing that his mind was affected by the drink so that he more readily gave way to some violent passion, does not rebut the presumption that a man intends the natural consequences of his acts.

The facts of the case were that the appellant was a retired military Jamadar. He was charged with murder of a young boy M about 15 or 16 years of age. Both of them attended a wedding and went to the house of the bride to take the lunch.

The appellant asked M, who had taken his seat, to step aside a little so that he may occupy a convenient seat. But M did not move. The appellant whipped out a pistol and shot the boy in the abdomen. The injury proved fatal.

Along with other members of the wedding party, the Jamadar boozed quite a lot of liquor and he became very drunk and intoxicated. It was found that although the appellant was under the influence of drink he was not so much under its influence that his mind was so obscured by the drink that there was incapacity in him to form the required intention.

It was held that the offence was not reduced from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder under the second part of Section 304.

Thus, where the accused was so heavily drunk that he was incapable of forming the requisite intent to bring his act within the ambit of the offence of murder, in view of Section 86, the accused should be imputed with the knowledge of his act.

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