Contours of Intoxication as Defense Under Indian Penal Code

Habitual intoxication is the epitome of every crime.” 

-Douglas William Jerrold 


As aforementioned, numerous crimes take place daily solely under the influence of intoxication but have you ever wondered if it is the case as they depict in movies. A crime takes place and woooshhh the accused is excused on account of not being in his conscious. Is this whole scenario so vague? The answer is in negative. The judiciary has a tight hold on every aspect of crime, criminal mind and exceptions. Here is to the one -INTOXICATION. 

Let us see how it works and the requisites for intoxication to be considered an exception in light of Indian Penal Code,1860. Beginning with understanding the meaning of intoxication: 

Intoxication is a state in which both physical and mental conditions of a person are disturbed because of alcohol intake or any narcotic substance. This is commonly known as the state of being intoxicated. He can neither control his actions nor can In this condition; the person cannot understand whether whatever he or she is doing is wrong or right and cannot understand its consequences. 

Intoxication presents issues in the theory of responsibility. A man who commits a criminal offence under alcohol’s influence may have otherwise led a responsible life. His acts committed under the influence of alcohol may not have reflected his real character. It could be a mere aberration in his life. Convicting a person who commits a criminal offence under the influence of alcohol like any other offender may seem to be harsh. On the opposite hand, it is not uncommon for offenders to consume alcohol before committing an offence. Hence, it will not be within the overall society’s interests to treat intoxication as a general defence. As, a man by consuming alcohol and becoming intoxicated willingly, impairs his self-control and judgment. 

In the legal view, alcohol intoxication is often referred to as a Blood Alcohol Concentration (B.A.C.) which is more significant than 5.4-17.4 mmol/L (25–80 mg/dL 0.025-0.080%). If the blood alcohol level more than 0.80% is constant, it is deadly. Even blood Alcohol content of moderate level may result in anxiety, blurred vision, lack of balance at the time of using Vehicles, lack in Judgement etc. . consumption of alcohol affects many organs of the human body that includes: 

BRAIN: Brain is the control centre of the human body and hence is a crucial organ that gets adversely affected by consuming alcohol. One may lose control over his actions after alcohol intake due to the effects and changes in the brain’s cerebellum, responsible for rational decisions and his acts’ judgments. 

HEART: The heart is the most delicate organ of the body responsible for supplying blood and oxygen in all the other organs, thereby causing involuntary and sudden movements in by disturbance of this functioning which would have otherwise not happened the person was not intoxicated. Significant alcohol intake can have a severe effect as cardiac arrest. Moreover, one can suffer from cardiomyopathy, sudden cardiac death and stroke by excessive intake of alcohol. So, it can also be medically proven that intoxication may lead to involuntary reactions by the body, which cannot be controlled by the person. 

LJCS: Legal Journal for Contemporary Society


 Intoxication as an exception is mentioned in chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code. It is dealt with in Sections 85 and 86. The concept of intoxication to count as exception like insanity and other exceptions is that a person is not in his senses when doing the act and no person should be held liable for the actions he could not control. Nobody is guilty unless proven. The burden of proof is on the accused to prove that he was intoxicated and whatever he did was not intentional. 


This section states that the person doing the act must be intoxicated against the will. So, either the alcohol is given to the person forcefully or is not aware that there is such substance in whatever he is consuming. Moreover, the consumption should be done at the time of the offence and not before or after it. Also, the person should be unaware of the consequences and nature of the act he is doing, i.e., it is against the law and has punishments regarding it in the law’s eyes. When all these conditions are met then only the person can be excused for the offence under intoxication. 


In general language, in this section, the cases where a person has been intoxicated, but he has done an act with the knowledge and intention of doing it is dealt in the same manner as a person who has not been intoxicated. Knowledge and intention are given much consideration in such cases. Further, this section mentions voluntary intoxication where a person has consumed the intoxicant on his own will, and herein, the offence is punished, and the accused is not exempted. 


In section 86 of the Indian Penal Code, the person’s knowledge and intention are discussed. In other words, it states the concept of voluntary intoxication where the excuse of voluntary intoxication cannot be taken in the commission of any offence. Further, two of the cases where we see voluntary intoxication acts at least as a mitigating factor. There, the specific intention is required for the offence. It is observed whether the person has so much intoxicated that he is not in the position where he understands his actions; in such cases, he will be exempted. If the person has no intention and has done the offence solely under the influence of alcohol, he will not be liable for murder but for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. On the other hand, if he intentionally does the offence, he will be held liable for murder even if he is under the influence of alcohol. 

Involuntarily Intoxication Excludes Mens Rea: Within the case of Director of Public Prosecutions v. Beard the person accused has raped and murdered a 13 years old girl and pleaded that he had done so under the influence of alcohol, but the court said that he could take the defence only if there were no mens rea to do so, which means that the mental element, i.e., mens rea, is excluded in involuntary intoxication. 

Now a question may arise in your mind that who is the one to bear the burden of proving that whether the person concerned was intoxicated and if intoxicated then was it done voluntarily or involuntarily. To clear this, here is the whole idea of the Burden of Proof in case of intoxication. 


This section is in I.P.C. is covered in part IV, which are the overall defences to the offences. The burden of proof lies on the accused person and not on the prosecution. He has proved that the intoxication was by involuntary means and therefore the intoxicating substance was not consumed by his own will. He has also to prove that he did not know or intend to do that specific act. The facts and circumstances have also to be proved by the accused person who led him to commit such an offence. 

Some more terms related to Intoxication cases which make it easier for the understanding of the ordinary people: 


It is a condition during which there is a disturbance in the brain caused by alcohol drinking. It produces a kind of insanity where the person has no idea about what he has done is true or wrong. The disease is realised as insanity proton, and thus the case is treated within an equivalent manner as involuntary intoxication. Therefore, the act is exempted from criminal cases; even it had been voluntary intoxication. 


This is often supported by the idea that alcohol is consumed for pleasure and to tackle depression and forget hurt or pain and escape from this worldly pains and depression. In this image, a person imagines himself or herself as overcoming these problems bravely. As a result, people often also consume alcohol to build courage. Drinking causes a way of self-resistance and takes away the capacity to think about what he is doing against the law. Before drinking, i.e. voluntary intoxication plans what he has got to do and builds up the courage to try to that thing. This rule is the Dutch courage rule. This rule governs only voluntary intoxication. This shows that an individual has the intention and also earlier decide to do the act. 


Intoxication as a part of general exceptions is covered under Indian Penal Code. Alcohol is sort of strongly related to crimes of violence. The effect of alcohol on the brain is depressant from the very beginning. Its stimulating effect is due solely to the fact that it deadens the higher control centres and progressively the other centres as well, thus weakening or removing the inhibitions that generally keep us within the bounds of civilised behaviour. It also impairs perception, reasoning and therefore, the ability to foresee consequences. 

Intoxication is a condition in which a person’s physical and mental capacity is disturbed because of alcohol intake or any narcotic substance. 

Intoxication is further categorised based on voluntary and involuntary intake, where only involuntary intoxication is considered defence according to the Indian Penal Code while voluntary intoxication is not exempted. 

The foreseeability test is also laid down to determine the liability of a person accused of committing the offence. While looking into the facts, the knowledge factor involuntary intoxication is considered if he was not intoxicated. 

The Dutch Courage Rule describes the manner which shall be used to deal with the cases. 

Moreover, even if the defence of intoxication is demanded, a person cannot be excused for grievous offences, which is evident in the cases. When it comes to the burden of proof, it lies on the person accused of committing the offences. In some of the cases, the mitigating and aggregating factor happens to be intoxication. However, the recent developments show that even if it is a condition of involuntary intoxication and the offence is severe, the person will be held liable.

- Riddhi Pathak
2nd Year, ICFAI

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