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Mythbusting Monday: Intoxication is a defense for sexually assaulting someone

The media has widely reported that Eric Tillman had been intoxicated by over-the-counter medications before committing the sexual assault he pled guilty to. As a result of the medication, Tillman was described as being “definitely not himself” on the day of the assault, and acting “loopy.” This information creates the impression that his act was defensible, because he appears unable to have formed a real intent to do harm.

However, this argument can be challenged because of the Canadian law that those facing crimes of “general intent” cannot use voluntary intoxication as a defense (s. 33.1 Criminal Code of Canada). In Canada, crimes are divided into general intent and specific intent. General intent crimes are those where the intent of the perpetrator is clear in his/her actions. For example: if a man gets drunk and punches someone, this is a “general intent crime”, because his intent to assault the other person is clear by the action itself.

If the punch leads to the other person dying, it is not clear from the act itself that the puncher intended homicide. He is only guilty of murder if he had the further “specific intent” to kill, or to cause serious harm which he knew was likely to cause the other person’s death. In that sense, murder is a specific intent crime because of the further additional intent necessary beyond the physical actions themselves.

If the fighter chose to drink (or do drugs) of his own will, and his intoxication is not the result of an unexpected, adverse reaction to the alcohol or medication, then he is said to be voluntarily intoxicated. Voluntary intoxication cannot be used as a legal defense in general intent crimes which violate a person’s body.

Sexual assault is a general intent crime.  In Tillman’s case, he voluntarily chose to ingest twice the recommended amount of sleeping pills and muscle relaxants, so he was voluntarily intoxicated.  As a result, saying his actions were the consequence of intoxication left him open to a significant legal challenge under our laws.

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