Involuntary Intoxication Defense: DUI Cases


Traditionally, Florida courts have allowed an involuntary intoxication
instruction only where defendant unknowingly consumed substances which lead to impairment. Carter v. State, 23 Fla. L. Weekly D962a (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). See also Devers-Lopez v. State, 710 So. 2d 720 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). However, there is a current trend to present evidence to the jury of an involuntary intoxication defense, when intoxication resulted from medicine lawfully prescribed and defendant was not fully aware of the effects of taking the medication.

A defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed on an Involuntary intoxication defense only where there is evidence to support it. Ray v. State, 755 So. 2d 604, 608(Fla. 2000). When voluntary, as opposed to involuntary intoxication, is raised as a defense, its applicability often turns on whether the statute criminalizing the conduct requires specific intent. Frye v. State, 23 Fla. L. Weekly S123 (Fla. 10th Cir. Ct. March. 5, 1998). Involuntary intoxication is a defense to DUI. Carter v. State, 710 So. 2d 110, 111 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998).

In Carter v. State, defendant was arrested for driving under the influence after taking what she believed to be Ibuprofen; however, defendant’s friend testified that she placed her prescribed medication for depression in defendant’s case for Ibuprofen. As a result, defendant became intoxicated when she mistakenly took what she believed was Ibuprofen. The court held that defendant was entitled to an involuntary intoxication jury instruction where (1) the defendant unknowingly ingested a substance which caused him to become impaired and (2) drove without the knowledge that he was or would become impaired while driving, an instruction on involuntary intoxication should be given. See also Devers-Lopez v. State, 710 So.2d 720 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998) (allowing involuntary intoxication instruction in DUI cases only where there is evidence that the defendant unknowingly consumed the substance leading to impairment, through the fault of another). Carter is the classic case for an involuntary intoxication defense.

Brancaccio v. State seems to broaden the scope of an involuntary intoxication defense to include scenerios in which the defendant voluntarily takes medication, which causes effects not anticipated by defendant or a reasonable person. “In order to establish an involuntary intoxication defense, a defendant must first present sufficient evidence that an intoxicated condition was brought about by the introduction into the defendant’s body of any substance which he does not know and has no reason to know has a tendency to cause an intoxicated or drugged condition; the defendant would then have the burden to prove that this involuntary intoxication rendered him unable to understand what he was doing and to understand the consequences of his actions, or if he did understand, that he was unable to know that his actions were wrong.” Brancaccio v. State, 27 So.3d 739 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). See also Boswell v. State, 610 So.2d 670 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992); Lucherini v. State, 932So. 2d 521 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). In Brancaccio, defendant was charged with murder, a witness for the defense testified that the Zoloft may have an opposite effect, and could cause aggression, anxiety, hypomania, depression, and emotional instability. Because a patient is entitled to assume that an intoxicating dose would not be prescribed or administered by a physician, where intoxication results from medicine which has been prescribed ( and taken as prescribed ) or administered by a physician, such intoxication is generally considered involuntary.

It will be interesting to see how Florida’s District Court of Appeals will resolve a case involving a defendant arrested for driving under the influence who voluntarily took medication he knew could be intoxicating, yet relied on his/her physicians representations that the dose prescribed by physician was not intoxicating when used as directed.

There is the case of Boswell v. State decided before Brancaccio. In Boswell, defendant suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, which hindered his ability to eliminate Prozac and Xanax from his system. Boswell v. State, 610 So. 2d 670 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992).The level of medication proscribed by his physician, although in the normal range for those without any cirrhosis of the liver, proved toxic in defendant’s body. As a result, after taking the prescribed dosage, Defendant suffered from hallucinations and delusions. Defendant was charged with second-degree murder. The court held that was sufficient evidence to support a lack of voluntariness of defendant’s intoxication, because in the body of a person with a normal functioning liver, there would be no reason to believe the level of medication prescribed would cause hallucinations and delusions.

I am eager to see whether Brancaccio will be liberally applied by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals in later cases and whether or not the other Florida District Courts will adopt Brancaccio.

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