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Minotaur Defense: The Myth of the Pathological Intoxication Defense

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 49 Issue: 4 Dated: Fall 2012 Pages: 1969-1999
Tim Feulner
Date Published
31 pages
This article examines the use of the pathological intoxication defense in criminal law.
The pathological intoxication defense is used in criminal law to describe an "aggressive and often violent state triggered in some individuals by only a small amount of alcohol." In the psychiatric community, however, the use of pathological intoxication is no longer supported as a reliable diagnosis, and recommendations have been made to drop the diagnosis entirely from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This finding however, has not carried over to the use of pathological intoxication as a viable defense in criminal law. The author argues that given the current lack of support for the diagnosis in the psychiatric community, and the fact that the defense itself is inconsistent with basic principles of criminal law the use of pathological intoxication should be dropped from criminal court cases. To support this argument, the author begins with a discussion of the medical debate surrounding pathological intoxication, and examines whether it is a specific, distinct syndrome or rather a range of symptoms that are more appropriately classified as part or parts of other disorders. This is followed by an analysis of the use of the defense and its incorporation into the Model Penal Code. The fourth section of the article examines the relevance of the psychiatric community's interpretation of pathological intoxication and its use in criminal law. The fifth section of the article discusses the five defenses under which pathological intoxication can be used: a mens rea defense, an automatism defense, an insanity defense, an involuntary intoxication defense, and a pathological intoxication defense. The final section of the article presents a new way for using the pathological intoxication defense by incorporating the research findings from the psychiatric community.


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