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What is Penal Code 29.4?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 01, 2019 | 0 Comments

stressed man having an alcoholic drink

Penal Code 29.4 is the California statute that sets forth the legal defense of voluntary intoxication.

This defense is available in criminal cases that involve a specific intent crime. And, it allows a defendant to introduce evidence of voluntary intoxication in order to show that the accused did not have the specific intent to commit a crime.

A specific intent crime is one where the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed an act with a specific purpose. Examples of these crimes include:

  • larceny,
  • murder, and
  • forgery.

Specific intent crimes are distinct from general intent crimes. The latter do not require the prosecutor to prove that the defendant intended to cause the ultimate harm that occurred in a case. Examples of these crimes include:

  • battery,
  • simple assault, and
  • arson.

What is the defense of voluntary intoxication?

A voluntary intoxication defense, per PC 29.4, allows a defendant to introduce evidence of his voluntary intoxication in order to show that he did not have the specific intent to commit a crime.

In murder cases, this defense is used to show that an accused did not commit the crime with:

  • premeditation,
  • deliberation, or
  • malice afterthought.

Voluntary intoxication” includes a person's voluntary ingestion, injection, or taking by any other means of any intoxicating:

  • liquor,
  • drug, or
  • other substance.

The defense of voluntary intoxication is only available in cases involving specific intent crimes, as opposed to general intent crimes.

Note that just because a defendant may use this defense, it does not automatically mean that he will be acquitted of a crime. The evidence introduced under PC 29.4 is presented to the jury and the jury considers it, along with other evidence, in deciding whether an accused acted with the necessary criminal intent.

What is the difference between a specific intent crime and a general intent crime?

Crimes are generally divided into two specific types. These are:

  1. specific intent crimes, and
  2. general intent crimes.

The former means that a defendant committed an act with a specific purpose. This purpose, or the requisite intent, is typically given in the statute or code section governing the crime involved. The prosecutor must prove that the accused acted with this intent in order to successfully convict him of the offense.

An example of a specific intent crime is forgery, per Penal Code 470. A person is guilty of this offense if he:

  • signs someone else's name, or
  • fakes a seal or someone else's handwriting, or
  • changes or falsifies any legal document (like a will or a deed), AND
  • does so with the intent to commit a fraud.

The “intent to commit a fraud” represents the specific intent that a prosecutor must prove under California forgery crimes and it is listed within PC 470.

General intent crimes do not require a prosecutor to prove that a defendant intended to cause the ultimate harm that occurred in a case. Instead, the prosecutor only has to show that the defendant intended to commit a certain act.

An example of a general intent crime is battery, per Penal Code 242. This offense consists of any willful and unlawful use of force or violence on someone else. The intent that a prosecutor must show is that the accused intended to use force or violence and he actually did. There is no need for a prosecutor to show that he intended to:

  • hurt the victim,
  • seriously injure the victim, or
  • act with any other specific purpose or motive.

Is there a defense of involuntary intoxication?

There is a legal defense of involuntary intoxication and it says that a defendant only committed a crime because he was intoxicated, by alcohol or drugs, by no fault of his own.

Involuntary intoxication is a complete defense to a crime. This means that a defendant can use it to challenge any crime – no matter if it is a specific intent crime or a general intent crime.

Generally speaking, a person is involuntarily intoxicated if either of the following occurred:

  • he consumed alcohol, drugs, or some other intoxicating substance without knowing he was doing so, or
  • somebody forced or tricked him into consuming an intoxicating substance.

The classic examples of involuntary intoxication are when someone:

  • drinks a punch he believes to be nonalcoholic when it is actually spiked with liquor, or
  • eats brownies not knowing they are laced with marijuana.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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