Intoxication as a defense under IPC

Section 85 of chapter 4 of Indian penal code talks about intoxication as a general defense.

Oxford defines intoxication as “the state of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” In simple language it can be defined as a state of mind where a person loses self control and his/her ability to judge morality and scope their actions. According to Indian penal code, mens rea i.e. guilty mind is necessary to commit a crime but can a  person who has been intoxicated have a guilty mind when they lose their sense of morality and self control?

Section 85 of Indian Penal Code says,

 “Act of a person incapable of judgment by reason of intoxica­tion caused against his will.—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.” 

which means that in cases where a person is incapable of of knowing the nature of the act or what he is doing is wrong due to intoxication, it will not be considered as an offence. But the most important part is that the intoxication should have been without the person’s knowledge or must have been forced.

It can be said that to constitute a defense under section 85 of IPC there must be two essential elements which are

  • The person must be intoxicated without his or her knowledge or against his or her will
  • The person must be intoxicated enough to lose the sense of morality and scope of his actions. 

In the same context of intoxication section 86 of Indian penal code talks about voluntary intoxication and further clarifies the extent of intoxication in terms with mens rea, section 86 of IPC states,

 “Offence requiring a particular intent or knowledge committed by one who is intoxicated.—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.” 

According to section 86 if a person commits a crime for which mens rea is an essential element, the court will presume that he would have the same knowledge and sense of morality which he would have, had he not been drunk.

It can be concluded that a person who is voluntarily intoxicated might be held accountable for an offence under section 86 of the IPC, which contains a condition to the exception provided under section 85 of the IPC.

DPP v. Beard (1920)

is a landmark case in voluntary intoxication where a person who was intoxicated on his will choked a minor to death while raping her, He was charged with the offence of murder and pleaded the defense of intoxication for the murder and said that he had lost his sense and had no intention of killing the minor.

In the aforesaid case the court held that, “Under the law of England as it prevailed until early in the 19th century voluntary drunkenness was never an excuse for criminal misconduct; and indeed, the classic authorities broadly assert that voluntary drunkenness must be considered rather an aggravation than a defense. This view was based upon the principle that a man who by his own voluntary act debauches and destroys his will power shall be no better situated in regard to criminal acts than a sober man”.

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