It’s surprising that in legal practice, it is often the simplest of cases that presents the most interesting & complex issues.
I recently attended a drink/drive matter at Guildford Magistrates Court. As part of my preparation, I discover literature explaining that consuming Prozac and alcohol together may result in troubled thinking and impaired judgment!
For those not familiar with it, Prozac is the generic name for a drug prescribed for eating disorders and depression.
Lets put this information into a legal context. A person takes a form of Prozac and decides to consume alcohol; thereafter they drive a motor vehicle on the road or other public place. The driver’s judgment is clearly flawed when they decide to drive. Is the unsound judgment due to the combination of the drug and alcohol? Probably, and the literature supports that view.
Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it will be deemed that the drug will not have affected the alcohol reading. The type of drug and the effect on the blood sample may be a line of enquiry to be pursued but not for our purposes today.
But back to the main issue; that of ‘mens rea’ otherwise known as guilty mind. The question of mens rea can only be raised where ‘guilty intent’ is an essential element of the offence. This requires the magistrates, or a jury, to make a determination about the defendant’s state of mind during the commission of the offence. A charge of drink driving, however, is a ‘strict liability’ offence, which requires no mens rea! All the Court is concerned with is whether the ‘actus reus’ or guilty act was present.
The fact that the combination of alcohol and drug may have affected the judgment of the driver is something that may go to mitigation but not to any defence to the charge.
Drivers should be aware that a combination of drug and alcohol might attract a charge under the new legislation on drug/driving. Nevertheless, to mix any drug with alcohol is courting danger, and drivers should exercise caution when under the influence of any drug.
The difficulty arises where a driver is suffering from a form of depression or otherwise influenced by some disorder of thinking. Drinking alcohol in this state may be a resort to mood change and avoid dealing with the underlying issue. It is in this context that a person doesn’t consider the consequences of their actions as they attempt to avoid the emotional pain from the past. Nevertheless, a defendant would not escape liability in these circumstances under the strict liability regime.
This is just one issue that can influence the way in which a case is pursued tactically by an advocate. Matters such as this will also be of assistance to the lawyer who seeks to provide an understanding of the emotional and psychological background of their client; which is crucial when communicating the real issues to the court.