Updated 10 December 2014

Too drunk to remember?

We often hear of court cases in which someone claims that he/she was drunk and therefore cannot recall committing a crime. Can intoxication be used as an excuse?

What are the effects of alcohol on memory and can intoxication serve as a mitigating factor when someone has committed a crime?

Only the first drink of alcohol would have a stimulating effect on the human brain. The second and third drink would act as an inhibitor and suppress brain function.

Black out
“As the person continues to drink, he becomes increasingly intoxicated until he reaches a point where brain function is so inhibited that the brain cannot commit events to memory – a state commonly referred to as alcohol intoxication delirium or ‘black out’,” says Prof Willie Pienaar of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Stellenbosch.

People are known to do outrageous things and can commit complex tasks while being drunk, such as getting married or spending vast amounts of money, but cannot remember these events the next day.

Mitigating factor?

According to Pienaar, alcohol intoxication used to be a mitigating factor in crimes but today the opposite is the case.

However, if a person has a clean record, is not a habitual drinker, is generally a responsible person and has good character references, the court may regard intoxication as a mitigating factor.

“Gone are the days when people can walk away saying: ‘the devil made me do it’. You are responsible for your alcohol abuse behaviour,” Pienaar says. – (Ilse Pauw, Health24)

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