Earlier this year, the BC courts held its first trial involving a 2011 Stanley Cup rioter. The plea? Not guilty. The claim? Too intoxicated to know what he was doing. The result? A 30-day conditional sentence and 2 year probation.
While originally stunned by the courts decisions, after a little research I think the court’s decision was appropriate. The defendant, Spencer Kirkwood, reported drinking problems and mental health issues following an unprovoked attack several years before the Stanley Cup riot. This created complications because incarceration for crimes related to health issues like addiction is something the justice system is trying to avoid.
I understand everyone’s dismay though. I was just as mad at the time. If only we all knew we could claim drunkenness as a plea against our crimes. Perhaps we could’ve escaped with only a slap on the wrist, too. I’m kidding, but that is truly how some people think. Back to the point, should you be mad at these rioters or should you be mad at the society we’ve grown into? One that tolerates and accepts intoxication as a reasonable excuse.
‘Mens rea’: We all Have it, but What is it?
The intoxication defense isn’t a new plea. It’s been used for years in drunk driving and sexual assault charges. The basis of these claims is a lack of ‘mens rea’. ‘Mens rea’ is a behaviour, action, or activity defined by criteria showing it as intention.This criteria includes:
- Awareness, and
- Willful blindness
‘Mens rea’ is limited to specific intent crimes. A ‘specific intent crime’ requires a person to act knowingly and with a specific purpose in mind when committing a crime. For example, in the case of theft, a specific intent crime requires that you not only took something from someone else, but also intended to remove it from it’s owner permanently.
Voluntary intoxication cannot be used to relieve persons of criminal responsibilities. If a person takes drugs or alcohol by his or her own violation, he or she can be held answerable for injury committed during that condition. Even if a person did not intend to become intoxicated, ingesting substances commonly known to cause affect or intoxication is enough cause. On that basis, it would seem Kirkwood’s intoxication applied to all of the above, but his alcohol dependency issues presented some challenges for the courts.
Like it or not, we all Caused This
In the end, the verdict of this trial had nothing to do with my concerns. The public attention he’s received has probably changed him forever anyways. If he hasn’t changed, it’s his life he’s impacting. Regarding the ‘intoxication’ plea, my biggest frustration was with ‘us’. Society. We caused this.
We paid less attention to alcohol and drug prevention and education in schools. We avoided talking to our kids and teens about healthy behaviours around drugs and alcohol. We looked the other way when they got drunk on the weekends and when they moved out. Now we’re mad at them. Yet, it’s our fault as friends and family for letting these individuals behave badly and not demanding they be personal responsible.
If you can’t convict people for their crimes related to intoxication, then maybe punish them for allowing themselves to be too intoxicated. Demand personal responsibility and help them achieve it, too. Courts can require therapy, education, and treatment for these bad habits. Therapy and treatment are excellent opportunities to discover reasons behind maladaptive behaviours like extreme alcohol abuse. Check out my blog, Technology Advancements & Alcohol Consumption, for more ranting on our lack of personal responsibility and drinking.
The majority of individuals involved in the Stanley Cup riots were teenagers and young adults. This group is still in a stage where they can learn, change, and develop healthier lifestyle habits. For parents, the likelihood and prevalence of your teens binge-drinking can be minimized by promoting healthy alcohol consumption. Don’t think “well that will just encourage them to drink more”, because it won’t. Trust that they will make the right decision and if they don’t, they’ll learn from it with minimal repercussions. Either way, you’re not going to be around forever; they’ll need to figure out healthy drinking habits eventually. They’ll likely have more success with your help than without it.