Involuntary Intoxication Defense to DUI

by DUI attorney Christopher H. Ariano

A Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge can harm your life. You impliedly consent to field sobriety tests once you get into a vehicle, and if you are pulled over and have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of over 0.08% after such tests you could be saddled with this kind of charge. Arizona has serious DUI penalties that can affect your employment prospects and financial situation. It is important to contact an experienced DUI attorney if you find yourself in a position where you are charged with a DUI.

Is a DUI a strict liability offense?

In some jurisdictions a DUI is a strict liability offense, which means that in order to be convicted the prosecution does not need to prove any intent element (i.e. that you intended to drive drunk).1 In Arizona, a state of mind requirement for a DUI conviction is absent. However, a reckless state of mind could be implied from the action of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, vapors, or drugs. See generally A.R.S. § 28-1381(A).

What is the involuntary intoxication defense?

In certain states involuntary intoxication is a full defense to a crime.2 You do not need to consume alcohol in order to be charged with a DUI. A drug or a drug metabolite will also be enough for you to earn a DUI charge. Involuntary intoxication defenses are fact specific. Various states have different contexts where involuntary intoxication could be a defense, such as where intoxication is through force or fraud, where it was caused by an innocent mistake (e.g. taking a hallucinogenic pill in the reasonable belief that it is an aspirin), where unexpected intoxication comes from a medically prescribed drug, or where you unknowingly suffer from some physiological or psychological condition that renders him abnormally susceptible to a legal intoxicant.3

Further, in California if you are intoxicated when you did not choose to consume alcohol this is a complete defense to a criminal charge.4 However, it is often difficult to prove involuntary intoxication. In California, you would have to show that you consumed alcohol or drugs without knowing you were doing so or that somebody forced you or tricked you into taking this intoxicating substance.5 Colorado also has an involuntary intoxication defense etched into its statutes as an affirmative defense.6 The defense in Colorado focuses on the defendant’s lack of capacity to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of law after a substance, that was not known to be an intoxicant, was introduced into his or her body.7

In Arizona it is uncertain as to whether the involuntary intoxication defense would be a valid defense. Arizona does recognize the involuntary intoxication defense in crimes that require a mental state (such as intent or knowledge).8 Thus, if someone is forced to take drugs or alcohol or does so without knowledge that what they were ingesting was an intoxicating drug it could negate the mental state element of the crime. If you have been charged with a DUI in Arizona, it is best to contact an experienced Arizona DUI attorney. Your attorney will be able to mount your best defense considering your circumstances.

[1] Jonathan, Involuntary Intoxication and DUI,, (last visited Dec. 10, 2014).

2 Id.

3 Alabama DUI Handbook § 15:4.

4 People v. Heffington, 32 Cal. App. 3d 1, 8 (1973).

5 The California Legal Defenses of Involuntary Intoxication and Voluntary Intoxication,, (last visited Dec. 11, 2014).

6 H. Michael Steinberg, Colorado DUI Law – Is It Possible To Raise An Involuntary Intoxication Defense?,, (last visited Dec. 12, 2014).

7 Id.

8 Revised Arizona Jury Instructions (Criminal), (2011),