Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?

Last updated on January 14, 2022

depressed man with a glass of alcohol

In Singapore, someone who has been accused of committing a crime in a state of intoxication may seek to raise the defence of intoxication. However, this defence is a limited one and may be relied on only if certain elements can be proven. Different legal requirements also apply depending on whether the intoxication was caused without the accused’s knowledge or by voluntary consumption. This article will explain:

What is Intoxication?

A person may be intoxicated where his or her physical or mental functioning is impaired by the effects of substances. Under Singapore law, the categories of substances that may result in such a state of intoxication include alcohol as well as narcotics or drugs.

Can an Accused Raise the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore? What are the Elements That Need to be Proven?

Intoxication is generally not a valid defence to any criminal charge in Singapore. However, the following 3 limited exceptions can be found under section 85 of the Penal Code:

  1. The accused’s state of intoxication was caused without his knowledge or consent, and he did not know what he was doing as a result;
  2. The accused’s state of intoxication was caused without his knowledge or consent, and he did not know that his act/omission was wrong as a result; or
  3. The accused was of unsound mind as determined in accordance with section 84 of the Penal Code by reason of the intoxication.

The first two exceptions listed above concern instances of involuntary intoxication. They may be relevant where, for example, the accused’s drink had been contaminated (or “spiked”) with a drug, which caused him to carry out the alleged offence, without his knowledge or consent. Further, the drug would have had to intoxicate him to the point that he had been unable to understand what he was doing or that his actions were wrong.

Where the accused’s state of intoxication was the result of his voluntary consumption or use of substances, he will succeed in raising the defence of intoxication only he is able to show that he was of unsound mind as required under the third exception listed above. In order to do so, it must be shown that the accused suffered from any of the following impediments pursuant to section 84 of the Penal Code:

  • The accused had been incapable of knowing the nature of the act;
  • The accused had been incapable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong; or
  • The accused had been completely deprived of any power to control his actions.

In both cases of involuntary and voluntary intoxication, the accused must be able to provide enough evidence to convince the court of the respective legal requirements. It will not be enough to just prove that the accused had been intoxicated when committing the offence.

It must also be further shown that he had been so intoxicated to the extent that he qualifies for the defence. Whether the defence has been made out depends highly on the facts of each case, and the court will consider both the victim’s and the accused’s evidence when coming to its decision on this matter.

The importance of establishing the necessary degree of intoxication on the factual circumstances was demonstrated in a case involving a doctor who had been accused of wrongfully confining and assaulting his ex-girlfriend while he was in a state of voluntary alcoholic intoxication because she refused to have sex with him.

The accused had argued that he had been so intoxicated when he committed the acts that he suffered an alcoholic blackout. Accordingly, he could not have formed the necessary intention to commit the offences. However, the accused failed to provide objective evidence that he had been so intoxicated that he was of unsound mind at the time of the offence.

The court also took into account how:

  • The accused’s blood alcohol content had been between 165 – 225mg/dl at the time of the offence. This fell below the threshold of 250mg/dl where alcoholic blackouts are more likely to occur;
  • The accused was a regular drinker who would have had a greater alcohol tolerance;
  • Several witnesses testified that the accused did not appear drunk at the scene;
  • Even if the accused could not form a memory after the event, this did not mean he could not form an intent to confine and assault the victim at the time of the offence;
  • Despite being as intoxicated as he claimed, the accused’s ability to perform targeted and complicated actions such as driving a car, locking the door and having sexual intercourse, suggested the retention of mental capacity at the material time; and
  • The victim’s evidence was compelling and consistent.

Accordingly, the court was not convinced that the accused had been of unsound mind at the time of the offence, and his attempt to raise the defence of voluntary intoxication failed. He was hence found guilty of the charges.

Where the defence of voluntary intoxication fails, the court may take the accused’s intoxication as an aggravating factor that calls for a more severe sentence. In addition, the fact that the victim experienced an increased state of terror or alarm as a result of the accused’s intoxication may be separately considered as another aggravating factor.

Difference between the general defence of unsoundness of mind and unsoundness of mind resulting from intoxication

For the defence of voluntary intoxication to succeed, the accused to prove that he/she was of unsound mind, as per the meaning of “unsound mind” under section 84 of the Penal Code, which has been described above. However, this is different from the general concept of “unsoundness of mind”.

The general concept of unsoundness of mind is one caused by an abnormality of the mind, which is a more permanent condition. On the other hand, where an accused had been intoxicated, the unsoundness of mind at the material time is a transitory effect induced by an external factor such as alcohol or drugs.

Whether the defence of diminished responsibility can be raised by an accused who commits an offence while intoxicated

In Singapore, the special defence of diminished responsibility may be available where the accused is facing a murder charge, and he had committed the relevant acts under an abnormality of mind that had substantially, but not fully, impaired his mental responsibility for the acts. If the defence of diminished responsibility is successfully raised, the charge will be reduced to one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

In other words, the defence of diminished responsibility recognises the difference between the inability and the failure to control one’s impulses. However, an impairment to the accused’s mental responsibility caused by intoxication does not qualify him for a defence of diminished responsibility. This is because intoxication is not one of the accepted reasons for the accused’s diminished responsibility for the purposes of the special defence. Thus, the accused cannot have recourse to the defence of diminished responsibility on the basis of his being intoxicated.

For more information, please refer to our article on using the defence of diminished responsibility.

What Happens If the Defence of Intoxication is Established?

If an accused is successful in raising the defence of involuntary intoxication under either of the first or second exception under section 85 of the Penal Code, he will be acquitted of the offence.

Where the accused successfully raises the defence of voluntary intoxication under the third exception of section 85 of the Penal Code, and proved that he had been of unsound mind, he will also be acquitted. However, additional procedures follow. Having successfully established unsoundness of mind as a result of voluntary intoxication, the court may order the accused to be kept in safe custody.

The court will then report the matter to the Minister for Home Affairs, who may order the acquitted person to be detained in a prison, psychiatric institution or other suitable places at the President’s pleasure. In other words, the acquitted person will be detained indefinitely until he is found to be fit for release.

During this time of detention at the President’s pleasure, the acquitted person’s state of mind will be examined at least once every 6 months. This will also ensure that he does not continue to pose a risk to others and himself. Once he is found to be capable of being released without danger of injuring himself or any other person, he may then be released.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence in Singapore for an act committed in a state of intoxication, you are strongly recommended to consult a qualified criminal lawyer to help you prepare the necessary arguments, evidence and documents in order to build a strong case.

Although you can represent yourself in criminal proceedings, a lawyer familiar with the facts of your unique situation can advise you on the appropriate course of action to take. This is particularly important since successfully pleading the defence of intoxication may open up the possibility of indefinite detention, which might not be an optimal outcome.

If you decide to plead the defence of intoxication, the fact-sensitive nature of the defence means that the evidence you are able to gather in support of it will often be extremely significant in determining whether you are able to successfully establish the defence. Your lawyer will also be able to assess your legal position and advise on the likelihood of the defence of intoxication succeeding, based on the strength of the evidence in your favour.

Get in touch with qualified criminal lawyers in Singapore here.

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