An Unresolved Model of Responsibility: Intoxication as a Defense in the 19th and 21st Centuries
Michele Rotunda RC'89 GSN'98 GSNB'14 and Keith Delaney RC'89
Michele Rotunda is an Assistant Professor of History at Union County College. She is the author of the forthcoming book, A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America.
Lieutenant Keith Delaney is a retired law enforcement officer with twenty-eight years of experience as a detective, frontline supervisor and unit commander. During his tenure with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO), he worked in and commanded his department’s Narcotic Task Force, Money Laundering Squad, Homicide Squad, Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, Major Crimes Unit, Financial Crimes Unit and Intelligence and Counterterrorism Unit.
Is drunkenness a defense for murder? Is someone under the influence fully responsible for their actions? In the mid-nineteenth century, American courts began to weigh mens rea arguments against the need to protect society. In the 21st century, courts deal with the dueling concepts of diminished capacity and strict liability in cases that involve death and intoxication. What can murder cases tell us about America’s complicated relationship with alcohol and drugs?