News By/Courtesy: Akanksha Dash | 20 May 2020 13:14pm IST


  • Allowing the defense of voluntary intoxication is a matter of great debate
  • In this case the court dwelt on the nature of intent
  • This was upheld in DPP v Caldwell

The case Director of Public Prosecution v. Majewski[1] ventured into the idea of specific and basic intent in a crime committed under the influence of intoxicants
The rule, in this case, was based on the idea that an intelligible distinction exists between crimes based on specific and basic intent. However, no strict definition of specific or basic intent has been given, but looking at judicial opinions and interpretation, we can roughly distinguish between basic intent and specific intent by saying that, ‘while basic intent extends to actus reus, specific intent extend beyond it’.[2]
The major issue in the case was whether an accused may properly be convicted of assault notwithstanding that, because of his self-induced intoxication, he did not intend to do the act alleged to constitute the assault.
The judges have evolved a substantive rule of law based on the idea of basic and specific intent. It says:
  • crimes of basic intent as distinct from
  • crimes of specific intent, self-induced intoxication provides no defense and is irrelevant to offenses of basic intent, such as assault.
The accused argued against it pleading the existence of no substantive rule of law and if such does exist, it is a violation of the fundamental principles of criminal law.
His main propositions were:
  • a man cannot be held to be guilty unless he has a guilty mind.
  • if a man who is not insane, commits a crime while he is in a temporary intoxicated state of mind such that he doesn’t know what he is doing, and he lacks the element of a guilty mind, he is not criminally liable for his actions
  • This remains valid irrespective of the intent being basic or specific.
  • This would be applicable if the ‘automatism’ of the act was the result of something that wasn’t under the control of the accused or even if it was caused due to consumption of intoxicants like drugs or drinks.
  • If a man who is in a state of automatism commits an offense like assault which requires a guilty mind, he will be regarded free from blame.
  • Such a conviction violates section 8 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967.
Now, the court to decide this case referred to the speech of Lord Simon in DPP v Morgan[3], which said,
“crimes of basic intent means those crimes whose definition expresses a mens rea which does not go beyond actus reus……. For instance, assault is an example of a crime of basic intent where the consequence is very closely connected with the act. The actus reus of assault is an act that causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence. The mens rea corresponds exactly.”
In this case, the prosecution has the burden of proof to show to the court that the accused in the case foresaw that his act would lead to another person being in the fear of immediate and unlawful violence or that he was reckless as to the consequence of his act. This foresight or recklessness is the mens rea.
Taking this principle into account, it can be said that in no case can the defense of drunkenness can exempt the accused from criminal liability. If a man, himself, is consuming a substance that hampers his sense of judgment and reasoning, by holding him responsible for the consequences of the acts he does under such influence is not violating any of his rights. The act of him reducing himself by drugs or drinks supplies mens rea that is sufficient for crimes of basic intent.
This decision affirmed the principle in the Beard[4] case that said that self-induced intoxication can be a defense only if the crime committed requires specific intent. But, in a case of crime requiring basic intent, he can be convicted despite being in a state of automatism.
[1] 1977 ACC 443.
[2] Donaldson LJ in Jaggard v Dickinson [1981] QB at 532H.
[3] 1975 Cr App R 136.
[4] [1920] 3 A.C. 479 (H.L.).

Section Editor: Pushpit Singh | 20 May 2020 14:32pm IST

Tags : intoxication, intent, majweski

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