General Exceptions: Intoxication


There exists a distinction between any act which is purposefully done with criminal intent, and an act not committed purposefully with such intent. This signifies the existence or absence of mens rea i.e. a guilty mind. Provisions for the same have been provided in Chaptter IV of the Indian Penal Code under general exceptions.

General exceptions can be further classified into two types of defences; excusable and justified defences.

  • Excusable Defences

As the name suggests, these defences indicate to acts which are excusable under the law which implies that even though the wrongful act took place, there existed no criminal intent. Excusable defences include:

  • Mistake of fact (S. 76 & 79)
  • Accident (S. 80)
  • Infancy (S. 82 & 83)
  • Insanity (S. 84)
  • Intoxication (S. 85 & 86)
  • Justified Defences

Justified defences on the other hand are wrongful acts which are justified or reasoned due to the circumstances. Justifiable defences include:

  • Judicial Acts (S. 77 & 78)
  • Necessity (S. 81)
  • Consent (S. 87-89 & 92)
  • Communication (S. 93)
  • Trifle Acts (S. 95)
  • Duress (S. 94)
  • Private Defence (S. 96- 106)

Intoxication under Chapter IV

85 and 86 of the Indian Penal Code provide for the exception of intoxication.

85 states for any act of a person who is incapable of judgement due to intoxication caused against his will to not be an offence. It is necessary to avail this section for the intoxication to not be administered by the person himself.

The earliest recorded case for the exception of intoxication was Reninger v. Fogossa1 Where, the court awarded death sentence for a murder committed in the sate of extreme intoxication. This was relaxed in the English Law gradually and only involuntary drunkenness was held to be excusable. The general rule in England was that merely proving that the mind of the man was so affected due to intoxication that it gave way to violent passion was not a defence but this rule had certain exceptions;

  • Insanity due to intoxication can be pleaded if habitual drinking has led to a permanent change in the brain tissues
  • Involuntary drunkenness

86 states for an act to not be an offence unless it is done with a particular knowledge or intent, if the person who does the act is in the state of intoxication and would be liable in the same manner as he would have been if he was not intoxicated, unless the intoxication administered to him was against his will or without his knowledge.

Case: Sarthi v. State of MP 2

Due to state of intoxication, the benefit of doubt was given to three persons who had rough handled the deceased which resulted in his unconsciousness, the intent to cause grievous hurt was clear but the benefit of doubt was given in regard to the murder which resulted in convicting the accused for culpable homicide not amounting to murder instead of murder.  

Burden of Proof

The accused needs to satisfy and prove to the court that there exists no mens reafor the act committed by him. The burden of proof hence, lies heavily on the accused. Further, S.105 of the Indian Evidence Actstates for any person who desires to avail the exceptions under Chapter IV must prove that his case falls within any of theexceptions. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does “state of intoxication” signify?

This term means intoxication which makes a person incapable of ascertaining the nature of the act done by him. Intoxication does not have an effect on the knowledge of the act, if the person has committed it, he must know the consequences.

2. Is voluntary drunkenness a valid defence?

No, voluntary drunkenness is not a valid excuse to avail the defence.Only intoxication caused against the person’s will or against his knowledge would be applicable under these two sections.

3. What are the necessary ingredients to avail S. 85?

1. At the time of the act, the person was incapable of knowing:

a. The nature of the act

b. Whether what he was doing was contrary to law

2. The intoxication was administered to him against his will or without his knowledge 

4. Can other factors be considered in context to the defence of intoxication?

In the case of A. G for Northern Ireland v. Gallagher3, it was pleaded that Gallagher was a psychopath and this disease of the mind was aggravated by intoxication which led him to lose self-control. The court and the jury applied the test of M’Naghten Rules to the time the intoxication took place and not at the time of murder, Gallagher was convicted. Further it was observed that Gallagher was not suffering from any mental disease and the intention to kill was formed prior to the act.Lord Denning further stated that the case had to be decided on the general rule that drunkenness is no defence to criminal charge

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 


1. Reninger v. Fogossa,1551 KB 75 Eng Rep 1

2. Sarthi v. State of MP, 1976 Cri. LJ 594

3. G for Northern Ireland v. Gallagher, 1963 AC 349

4. S.N. Misra, Indian Penal Code, 167-179, (20th ED. 2016) Central Law Publications, Allahabad


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