Can You Accidentally Drive Under the Influence?


Driving under the influence is a crime in Florida. But like all crimes, a person needs to have at least some general “guilty intent,” what the law calls mens rea, to be convicted. In a typical DUI prosecution, the defendant intentionally drank alcohol or took drugs that affected them to the degree that their normal faculties were impaired. 


However, if you unintentionally consumed an intoxicant, either liquid, powder, or pill, or you accidentally took a different medication than you thought you were taking, then the defense of “involuntary intoxication” could protect you from being convicted. 



Involuntary Intoxication 


To understand how the defense of involuntary intoxication works, we need to spend a moment discussing what the word voluntary means in law. A person’s act is voluntary if they decide by their own free will to perform the act. They act knowingly and intentionally.  


But with DUI, no one actually goes to a bar planning to drive under the influence. And once they get intoxicated, doesn’t the intoxication mean they’re not acting knowing? The answer involves the difference between what the law calls “general intent” and “specific intent.”  


For some crimes, a defendant must form a specific 

 intent for a conviction to be sustained.  


For example, under common law, theft requires the following to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt: 


  • Taking and carrying away of 
  • The personal property of another person 
  • With intent to permanently deprive them of the benefit of the property.  


But some crimes require only a general intent for a conviction to be upheld. For example, a battery can be committed by someone who means to push someone in an argument, but they never meant to cause the person to fall down a flight of stairs and suffer serious injuries. Their lack of intent to harm the victim does not save the defendant from a felony assault conviction.  


This is the same with DUI in Florida. The driver’s free choice to drink a sufficient quantity of alcohol or take powerful drugs and then get behind the wheel is enough to support a DUI conviction. In this example, the driver started the stream of events in motion voluntarily, although they may not intend to commit a DUI specifically. 


When Does a Driver Have NO INTENT AT ALL to Drive Under the Influence? 


An accidental DUI occurs when the driver made no conscious choice to drink or take any drugs that would impair their normal faculties.  


These rare events occur when a driver takes another person’s prescription by accident or is unaware that they have their drink or something they ate could impair their ability to drive safely. 


In one 1998 case, a DUI defendant testified that she accidentally took her husband’s Halcion pill, thinking it was her own prescription which would have no impairing effects. She started to drive to her friend’s house and could remember nothing else.  The trial court refused to give a jury instruction explaining involuntary intoxication as a possible defense. The Florida District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial at which the jury was to be told about involuntary intoxication.i 


The appellate court relied upon another similar case decided earlier in the same year. Considering the issue for the first time, the court decided that involuntary intoxication was a defense in DUI. If the facts of the case support a possible involuntary intoxication defense, then the trial judge must instruct the jury on that law.ii 


What Drugs Have Side Effects that Will Impair Your Normal Driving Faculties? 


Every driver must find out whether the prescription or over-the-counter drugs they take can have side effects that can impair their driving skills.  


DUI does not apply only if you are driving under the influence of “illegal” drugs. DUI law applies to legal prescription drugs also.  


When your doctor prescribes a new drug, or you buy nonprescription drugs at a pharmacy, ask about the possible side effects. No matter how you became impaired, if you intentionally took a medication known to cause drowsiness, inattention, confusion, or other impairments, you probably will not qualify for the “involuntary intoxication” defense. 


The Food and Drug Administration cautions that many common and familiar drugs can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.  


Psychotropic drugs are those that affect behavior, mood, thoughts, or perceptions. Included on the FDA list are antipsychotic medications, anxiety meds, opioids commonly prescribed for pain, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, and even over-the-counter cold medications. 


Learn More > How Prescription Drugs Can Impact Your Driving 


Get Help from Professional DUI Defense Attorneys 


Attorney Ben Stechschulte has been trying DUI cases for many years, both as a prosecutor during his early years of practice and as a veteran criminal defense lawyer focusing much of his practice on defending clients facing DUI charges. 


Experienced DUI defense lawyers are thoroughly informed about all the technical requirements the prosecution must meet to win a conviction. DUI defense is not like defending other crimes like assault, or robbery. DUI involves scientific theories and government regulations that your attorney must know inside and out. In real-world court cases, your defense attorney’s ability to react reflexively with exactly the right evidentiary objection without missing a beat is imperative.  


Criminal law and procedure are firm, and judges are not likely to give an inexperienced lawyer extra time to do research. If an inexperienced lawyer misses an issue or fails to object to at the right time, a client can suffer an avoidable conviction. Appellate courts often rule that if an issue was not raised at the correct time, then it is permanently waived. 


If you or someone you know gets charged with DUI in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, you need to contact DUI defense attorneys with extensive DUI courtroom experience. Don’t settle for less. 


Call 813-280-1244 for a free DUI case review today.  

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