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Commonwealth v. Smith

Citation. 831 A.2d 636 (2003)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Smith (defendant) was charged with driving under the influence. Smith appealed, arguing there was sufficient evidence present to support his defense of involuntary intoxication, after he drank a beer while wearing a prescribed patch designed to eliminate pain by administering a narcotic medicine.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A criminal defendant cannot assert an involuntary intoxication defense for consuming an alcoholic beverage that heightens the effects of a pain medicine prescription.


After a police officer witnessed the defendant, Karen Smith, swerve into the wrong lane while driving, the officer pulled Smith over. The officer observed that Smith’s eyes were glossed over, she was slurring her words, and the officer could smell an alcoholic odor emanating from her. The officer proceeded to administer several field sobriety tests, all of which Smith failed. Smith testified at trial that she had been prescribed a pain killing patch that administered a strong narcotic and Smith had failed to read the patch's side effects or warnings. Smith argued that she only drank one beer and because she did not read the medicines side effects, she did not voluntarily become intoxicated.


Whether the defense of involuntary intoxication is applicable when an individual voluntarily consumes an alcoholic beverage, which raises the effects of a prescribed medication?


No, in Pennsylvania the statute the presents the defense of involuntary intoxication has certain limits the legislature has set on asserting the defense.


The defense of involuntary intoxication is only available when: (1) the intoxication is caused by another through force, duress, fraud, or other similar conduct, (2) the intoxication was caused by a harmless or innocent mistake, (3) the defendant suffered from a certain psychological disorder, which they did not know about, and that disorder caused that person to a greater susceptibility to an intoxicant, or (4) the intoxication resulted from a medically prescribed drug. Here, while it seems Smith’ intoxication was caused by a medically prescribed drug, the drug was not the sole reason that caused Smith’s intoxication, but it was the combination of the drug and the alcoholic beverage she voluntarily consumed. Thus, the defense of involuntary intoxication is not applicable under the facts of this case.

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