ENLawyer Kurt Nachtman had an interesting case recently involving some “law school” defenses that are rarely seen in real life. The case also highlighted the dangers of involuntary intoxication and ingesting a substance that you don’t know it’s origin.
Baltimore Criminal Defense: The story
(this is the extremely short version to protect our client’s anonymity) Our client was out and had 1 beer after work. Our client also ingested he/she was told was a tobacco vaporizer. After hitting the vaporizer, the client went crazy with rage, running around, ripping off his clothes and walking on cars (but not green like the hulk). Police were called and the client became involved in an altercation with the first responders, which ended up in the client being charged with second degree assault and other associated crimes. Luckily our client was transported to the hospital and treated prior to being taken to the county jail.
Baltimore Criminal Defense: Involuntary Intoxication
The important part of this story, is that the client did not INTENTIONALLY consume the intoxicating substance. He was provided something that turned out to be some unknown intoxicant. The problem is how to prove it? Involuntary intoxication is a complete defense to all crimes that require any sort of mens rea (or mental state), like assault. It’s a basic “law school” issue (and often a test on law school criminal law exams). Voluntary intoxication, however, isn’t a complete defense. Voluntary intoxication can mitigate, or reduce, the seriousness of a crime to a lower category but it is almost never a complete defense. But how to prove it?
- The client’s word – this is good, but it’s not going to get a prosecutor to drop the charges. That will require a trial and the risk of losing if the judge or jury doesn’t believe our client. Yes the law is that the State is required to PROVE their case beyond a reasonable doubt, but clients who are innocent and testify poorly are often punished harshly by critical courts, plus its a big risk, facing 10 years in jail for a second degree assault.
- Independent witnesses – As you can imagine, the guy with the vaporizer totally vaporized into thin air after the police showed up and stopped returning our client’s phone calls. We would have had him served and brought into court on a material witness warrant but we simply couldn’t locate him. Things that make you go hmmmm….
- Hospital reports – this obviously the best option for several reasons. First, it is from a truly independent witness and unbiased third party. Why would a hospital lie? Second by obtaining our client’s own medical records we only need to allow for inspection of these records if we intend to use them at trial under the Circuit Court rules of discovery. If they hurt us, we don’t need them.
So as it turns out, our client’s medical reports were great. They demonstrated through an independent toxicology screening that our client had only 1 (or maybe 2) drinks with a BAC of less than .03. It also showed no other intoxicating substances in the body, such as cocaine, marijuana, or amphetamines. Finally it diagnosed our client with “involuntary intoxication” under the Emergency Room summary (could it be any better than that?).
Why is no results a good result?
Law enforcement and prosecutors know that new “designer” drugs that are often found in vaporizers are not traceable with normal toxicology screens (spice or K2). So the lack of any positive test lent credence to our client’s story that he was involuntarily intoxicated. Ultimately our client’s case was placed on the Stet docket for a very, very serious assault which he will be able to expunge from his record like it never happened in a short period of time.
ENLawyers: Bottom Line
This was an excellent result for our client, who was accused of a very serious assault and other associated charges, but through his own hard work and through the extra leg work of obtaining his medical records and proving his innocence we were able to get this result. This doesn’t happen all the time (in fact the prosecutors couldn’t believe the medical records and hadn’t seen anything like that since law school) but it does happen. It always pays to have a good lawyer who not only knows your rights but aggressively pursues evidence to help exonerate you. If you find yourself charged with an assault, call ENLawyers for help.