Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Drunkenness. - The courts are reluctant to recognize intoxication as an excuse either for committing a crime or for repudiating a contract, but if from long continued intemperate habits a man has become actually insane or incompetent, his actual mental condition will be recognized whatever may have produced it.

Again, in making a contract the other party could hardly deal with a man badly intoxicated without knowing his condition, consequently the element of fraud appears, and the contract may be declared invalid either for lack of contracting capacity on the part of the drunken man, or for [117]fraud on the part of the other in taking advantage of his condition. His fraud would be still greater if he had designedly caused the drunkenness of the other. Either objection, however, renders the contract voidable rather than void, and should an intoxicated party, after he became sober ratify his contract, or fail to repudiate it and restore the consideration, if any, within a reasonable time, he would become bound.

The courts are still more reluctant to admit intoxication as an excuse for criminal acts. The courts hold that one who voluntarily deprives himself of self-control must have intended the consequences, therefore it is everywhere held that one who voluntarily becomes intoxicated, although he did so with no purpose to commit a crime when intoxicated, cannot claim immunity from criminal responsibility, or even a mitigation of the penalty, though having no capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. And yet, like so many legal rules, there are some marked exceptions to this one. Thus, since burglary is the entering of a house with the intent to commit a felony therein, one who blunders into a strange house because he is too drunk to know where he is or what he is doing has not committed the crime of burglary. So one who carried off the property of another through drunken ignorance does not commit larceny, as there is no intent in such a case to convert the property to the taker's own use. Another application has been made in cases of assault with intent to kill a person.

Again, says Peck, "if one is visibly intoxicated, it is the duty of those who come in contact with him to take his condition into account, and their use of due care will be judged in view of that fact. Even if the drunken person and the other are both [118]negligent, the sober party may be liable under the doctrine of the last clear chance, if he fails to exercise toward the drunken man the degree of care which is evidently required to avoid injuring him. Especially is a common carrier, in dealing with a passenger who is on its car in an intoxicated condition, bound to take his helpless condition into account in removing him from the car or otherwise handling him, and not put him in a place of manifest danger to one in his condition."

It has also been held that the intoxication of one who uttered a slander may be admissible in mitigation of the damages, as utterances of a drunken man could not seriously impair the reputation of any one.


Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Drunkenness
Page Updated 6:13 PM Thursday 6/13/2013