Drunk, dangerous and delusional: how legal concept‐creep risks overcriminalization

Hans Crombag, John Child, George Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Background In the recent case of R v Taj, the Court of Appeal of England & Wales upheld the conviction of a defendant who, in a psychotic delusional state, mistook his non‐threatening victim to be a terrorist, violently attacking him. The law typically allows honest mistakes (even if unreasonable) as a basis for self‐defence (in this case the defence of others). But because Taj's delusions were found by the court to have been caused by voluntary alcohol consumption, special legal (prior‐fault) intoxication rules were applied to block his defence; Taj was convicted and sentenced to 19 years for attempted murder. Argument We focus here on the simple question – what does it mean to be intoxicated? On the facts, Taj did not have drugs active in his system at the time of the attack, but the court nonetheless insisted that Taj's delusional mistake was ‘attributable to intoxication’, namely to drink and drug‐taking in the previous days and weeks. This extended conception of intoxication was questionably distinguished from psychosis induced by withdrawal. Furthermore, the court was unreceptive to evidence of a long‐standing, underlying mental health disorder. We argue that the court's expanded view of intoxication is problematic in that intoxication‐induced psychosis cannot be sharply distinguished from other causes such as mental disorders. And even if it could be distinguished, it should not give rise to blame and punishment in the same way as conduct induced by chemically active intoxicants (‘drug‐on‐board’) does. Conclusion The courts’ expansion of the definition of intoxication is both legally and forensically problematic, introducing legal vagaries where the clinical science is already vague. And with intoxication frequently interlocking with historic intoxication and secondary or co‐morbid mental health conditions, the decision risks inappropriately and/or over‐criminalising defendants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2200-2207
Issue number12
Early online date27 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Feb 2020


  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Psychosis
  • criminal law
  • mens rea
  • mental disorders
  • self‐defence


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