I represent many Penn State students who are charged with criminal offenses stemming from alcohol and drug related incidents. Some charges are directly related to drugs and alcohol, such as possession of marijuana, underage drinking, and public drunkenness. However, many of my clients are charged with offenses such as burglary and criminal trespass after having a bit too much and going into the wrong apartment or dorm room. Other students get a bit angrier after drinking and get charged with assault offenses, sometimes of the misdemeanor simple assault variety, but other times clients are charged with felony offenses of aggravated assault. The key factor is that the client had a bit too much to drink, and the over-consumption led to poor decision making.
A Florida man was recently arrested after causing damage to a home by breaking a window and destroying a mailbox. Police were summoned and found the suspect on the scene, shirtless and covered in dirt. Surprisingly, this man did not blame his destructive behavior on being drunk or due to some grievance with the owner of the property. Instead, the man told police that he had listened to too much music and had masturbated too much, and it was those over-indulgences that caused his criminal behavior. The man was arrested and charged with Burglary for entering the other home and with Criminal Mischief for the property damage.
Being Drunk not a Defense to Criminal Charges
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have made the bad decision to drink a bit too much and probably made additional bad decisions thereafter that we blamed on the alcohol. The additional bad decision may have been singing at a Karaoke bar or dancing at a nightclub believing that we can dance - so non-criminal in nature - but some people do commit a criminal act and get charged or arrested for it. As we have heard many times, "being drunk is not an excuse." This general concept is contained in Pennsylvania criminal law. Section 308 of the Crimes Code states that "neither voluntary intoxication nor voluntary drugged condition is a defense to a criminal charge, nor may evidence of such conditions be introduced to negative the element of intent of the offense." Basically, the law says that a person's bad decision to get too drunk or too high is not a defense to a criminal charge.
While being drunk or high is not a legal excuse, it does put the incident into a context and can be used as a mitigating factor. Take a typical State College assault case as an example. Who do you think the Centre County District Attorney may show more leniency towards, the drunk Penn State students that have some beer muscles and get into a fist fight after bumping into one another on the sidewalk after leaving the Rathskellar, or the sober guy that sucker punched a stranger in the Saloon for talking to his girlfriend? The drunk student is legally just as guilty of assault, but the prosecutor will look at intent. Compare two drunk, mutual combatants throwing punches versus a jealous man that is provoking the fight. The person with the more criminal intent generally does receive more severe treatment in the court system. The drunk student may have his misdemeanor Simple Assault charges reduced to summary offenses, such as Disorderly Conduct or Harassment, whereas the jealous boyfriend is likely to face the misdemeanor assault and possibly a sentence that includes jail time. The best way to resolve any criminal case is to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer and to follow that lawyer's advice.