liberty to exclude evidence of voluntary intoxication

The case of Montana v Egelhoff established that state courts are at liberty to exclude evidence of voluntary intoxication which has as its purpose the determination of whether or not the defendant had the requisite criminal intent. (Meyer and Weaver, 215) The US Supreme Court’s ruling in this case upheld a Montana statute that effectively indorsed a long held common law tradition that voluntary intoxication could not justify or excuse criminal conduct.

(Leitzel, 69) Ultimately the US Supreme Court’s ruling that the Montana Statute could legitimately exclude voluntary intoxication as a defense to criminal conduct recognizes that voluntary intoxication is not a mitigating circumstance. (Leitzel, 70) Discussion Egelhoff had been arrested and charged with two counts of deliberate homicide which necessarily inferred that he either knew or purposely caused the deaths of the two victims. (Leitzel, 70) At the time of his arrest, Egelhoff had been found in a car with two dead bodies who had died as a result of gunshot wounds.

(Leitzel, 70) Toxicology tests revealed that Egelhoff’s blood alcohol level had been “four-and-a-half times” over the legal limit at the time of his arrest. (Leitzel, 70) Egelhoff launched a broad defense at the trial of first instance claiming that he had been so intoxicated at the relevant time that it would have been physically impossible for him to have committed a double homicide. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) Additionally Egelhoff argued that he had been so intoxicated that he could not recall the events that gave rise to the crimes for which he had been charged.

(Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) However, the Montana State judge presiding over the matter instructed the jury that under a Montana statutory provision: “… voluntary intoxication may not be taken into consideration in determining the existence of a mental state which is an element of a criminal offense. ” (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts and Egelhoff was sentenced to a term of 84 years imprisonment. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S.

Ct. 2013 [1996]) On appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, Egelhoff argued that both the judge’s instructions to the jury and the Montana statute denied him due process under the 14th Amendment to the US constitution since both factors effectively denied him the right to present all the relevant evidence. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) Egelhoff also argued that the impact of the Montana statute was to lessen the prosecution’s burden of proof which in and of itself had consequences for due process requirements under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

(Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The Montana Supreme Court agreed with Egelhoff and allowed the appeal. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The matter was heard by the US Supreme Court with the result that the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling was reversed by a 5-4 majority. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct.

2013 [1996]) The US Supreme Court ruled that states were at liberty to define specific offences and set limitations and requirements for proof of the existence of the mental element required to establish that an offence had been committed. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The US Supreme Court went on to state that it was a matter for the individual states to determine the procedural basis for establishing a crime and the Federal government could not intervene unless the procedure adapted by the particular state offended a fundamental “principle of justice…

rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people. ” (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) In this case this had not been established since the statute refusing to permit evidence of voluntary intoxication to disprove that the defendant lacked the necessary mental element to commit the crime with which he was charged had been a long held tenet of the common law. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct.

2013 [1996]) It had been previously determined that the test for whether a rule of procedure offended principles of justice was found by looking to “historical practice. ” (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The US Supreme Court in considering whether or not a refusal to allow certain relevant evidence offended the principles of due process under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution stated that a judge always had the discretion to refuse to allow some evidence, relevant or not. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S.

Ct. 2013 [1996])Some examples existed in the laws barring evidence on the grounds that such evidence had been unfairly obtained or that one party failed to provide sufficient notice to the other party of the existence of that evidence or that the probative value of the evidence was outweighed by its prejudicial effect. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) It therefore followed that there was no absolute right to have all relevant evidence presented in any particular case under due process principles.

(Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) The US Supreme Court’s decision was obtained by a narrow majority suggesting that there was at least some merit to Egelhoff’s arguments. Justice Sandra O’Conner, dissenting, stated that in order for state law to legitimately pass a law excluding what amounts to evidence of a lack of mental capacity the statute should at the very least provide its justifications for doing so.

(Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) In this case the Montana statute failed to provide any justification for the exclusion of evidence of voluntary intoxication as an excuse or justification for the crime. The dissenting judges by and large agreed that the Montana Statute did not redefine the mental element necessary to establish deliberate homicide. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct.

2013 [1996]) What the statute did was make it easier for the prosecution to prove its case by leaving a jury, unaware of the intoxication with the false impression that the crime was committed with purpose, knowledge and deliberation. (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) As Justice Breyer explained: “An intoxicated driver stopped at an intersection who unknowingly accelerated into a pedestrian would likely be found guilty, for a jury unaware of intoxication would likely infer knowledge or purpose.

An identically intoxicated driver racing along a highway who unknowingly sideswiped another car would likely be found innocent, for a jury unaware would likely infer negligence. ” . (Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of the United States 116 S. Ct. 2013 [1996]) Obviously the statute has the potential to give rise to unjust verdicts. A jury who is not permitted to have all the evidence relevant to the defendant’s state of mind with respect to voluntary intoxication might unfairly convict an accused person or unfairly acquit an accused person as in the examples provided by Justice Breyer.

Conclusion The mere fact that the Montana legislators isolated voluntary intoxication in its statute proclaiming that it will not excuse or justify a crime suggests just the opposite. (Allen, 633-691) By merely stating that voluntary intoxication will not counter the claim that the defendant had the necessary mental element necessarily implies that intoxication itself alters the defendant’s state of mind. (Allen, 633-691) Since the legislators recognize that intoxication can impair an individual’s state of mind the Montana legislation appears to be unjustifiable.

The statute should have been worded to permit evidence of intoxication with the proviso that it is only admissible if there is evidence that the intention to commit the crime did not exist prior to the defendant’s altered state of mind. In all cases voluntary intoxication should not be the subject of blanket application and should be considered on a case by case basis as intoxication effects individuals differently.

Bibliograph

y Allen, Ronald.(1997) “Foreward: Montana v Egelhoff. Reflections on the Limits of Legislative Imagination and Judicial Authority. ” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Vol 87(3), 633-691. Leitzel, Jim. (2008) Regulating Vice: Misguided Prohibitions and Realistic Controls. Cambridge University Press. Meyer, Robert and Weaver, Christopher. (2006) Law and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach. Guilford Press. Montana v Egelhoff, Supreme Court of t