People v. Langworthy, Docket Nos. 65320

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation331 N.W.2d 171,416 Mich. 630
Docket Number65480,J,5,Docket Nos. 65320,Nos. 4,s. 4
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Dean V. LANGWORTHY, Defendant-Appellant. PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Roy Lee LUNDY, Defendant-Appellant. anuary Term. Calendar416 Mich. 630, 331 N.W.2d 171
Decision Date23 December 1982

Page 171

331 N.W.2d 171
PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Dean V. LANGWORTHY, Defendant-Appellant.
PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Roy Lee LUNDY, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Nos. 65320, 65480, January Term.
Calendar Nos. 4, 5.
416 Mich. 630, 331 N.W.2d 171
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued Jan. 5, 1982.
Decided Dec. 23, 1982.

[416 MICH 634] William F. Delhey, Pros. Atty. in Washtenaw County by James S. Sexsmith, Sr. Asst. Pros. Atty., Ann Arbor, for plaintiff-appellee.

Richard A. Smith, Livonia, for defendant-appellant; Jeffrey Caminsky, Research Consultant, Detroit.

FITZGERALD, Chief Justice.

The common ground of these cases is that, at their trials, both defendants attempted to utilize voluntary intoxication as a defense to charges of crimes which Michigan

Page 172

appellate courts previously have held to be general-intent crimes. Both defendants request this Court to expand the category of specific-intent crimes to include the offenses they were convicted of, i.e., first-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree murder, in order to make available to them the defense of voluntary intoxication.

Defendant Lundy was found guilty but mentally ill of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual [416 MICH 635] conduct, M.C.L. Sec. 750.520b; M.S.A. Sec. 28.788(2), and sentenced to three concurrent life terms. The convictions arose from the October 30, 1978, rape of his adult sister. The crime, carried out with the use of a knife as a threatening weapon, involved three penetrations.

At Lundy's bench trial, the major issue centered on defendant's mental state at the time of the commission of the crime. His defense was predicated upon expert testimony regarding his mental state as well as evidence that he had been sniffing glue and drinking alcohol immediately prior to the crime. The trial court rejected Lundy's insanity defense as well as his intoxication defense, ruling as to the latter that first-degree criminal sexual conduct is a general-intent crime.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in a memorandum opinion.

Defendant Langworthy was convicted of second-degree murder, M.C.L. Sec. 750.317; M.S.A. Sec. 28.549, and was sentenced to 60 to 90 years in prison.

After a bench trial, the trial judge found that on the night of November 5, 1976, defendant, Roy Schipani, and Alan Parker were together indulging in alcohol and drugs in a house in Ypsilanti. Parker left sometime during the early morning hours to purchase cigarettes at a gas station. There he met the decedent, William Wedge, who returned to the house with Parker.

The trial judge further found that Wedge was intoxicated and offensive and that Wedge made certain comments which irritated defendant. Wedge then passed out and the three others discussed[416 MICH 636] robbing Wedge. Defendant suggested that they "blow him away" and then he turned up the stereo, went to a closet where he got a rifle and shot Wedge in the mouth and in the chest.

The trial judge determined that the defendant was not mentally ill or legally insane at the time of the commission of the crime. He found that defendant had taken at least 400 milligrams of Valium and some codeine and Nembutal and had been drinking Southern Comfort and Coke at the time of the crime. The trial judge concluded:

"However, the Court finds that as a result of the drugs and alcohol his judgment and his appreciation of the consequence of his actions was grossly impaired.

"That he committed the act knowingly with malice but 'without a real concept of the consequence of the act.' That he had a conscious intent to commit the crime but that his judgment and appreciation of the consequence of his act was grossly impaired as the result of the drugs and alcohol."

The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion per curiam, ruling, inter alia, that second-degree murder is not a specific-intent crime and that, therefore, voluntary intoxication was not a defense.


Every jurisdiction in this country recognizes the general principle that voluntary intoxication is not any excuse for crime. 1 This is in accord with the common-law rule dating back to the sixteenth [416 MICH 637] century which allowed no concession to a defendant because

Page 173

of his intoxication. 2 However, by the early nineteenth century, the English courts began to fashion a doctrine to mitigate the harshness and rigidity of the traditional rule. 3 The doctrine, which has come to be known as the exculpatory rule, was stated by Judge Stephen as follows:

"[A]lthough you cannot take drunkenness as any excuse for crime, yet when the crime is such that the intention of the party committing it is one of its constituent elements, you may look at the fact that a man was in drink in considering whether he formed the intention necessary to constitute the crime." 4

It is said that the theory behind this exculpatory doctrine is that it does not hold that drunkenness will excuse crime; rather, it inquires whether the very crime which the law defines has in fact been committed. 5 Almost every state, by statute or by common law, has adopted the exculpatory rule, 6 and Michigan is no exception. 7

[416 MICH 638] "While it is true that drunkenness cannot excuse crime, it is equally true that when a certain intent is a necessary element in a crime, the crime cannot have been committed when the intent did not exist." People v. Walker, 38 Mich. 156, 158 (1878). See, also, People v. Crittle, 390 Mich. 367, 212 N.W.2d 196 (1973).

The applicability of the exculpatory rule rests entirely on the determination whether the offense involved is categorized as a general- or specific-intent crime.

"It is important in this decision to emphasize that intoxication may only negative the existence of specific intent. Examination of the cases reveals that where the rule was applied, it was done so in cases where the crime charged also involved a specific intent." People v. Guillett, 342 Mich. 1, 6, 69 N.W.2d 140 (1955). See, also, Roberts v. People, 19 Mich. 401 (1870).

Thus, if a crime is determined to require only a general intent, the defendant's voluntary intoxication during the commission of an offense may not be asserted as a defense to the existence of the mental element of that crime.

The general intent-specific intent dichotomy arose as a compromise between the perceived need to afford some relief to the intoxicated offender whose moral culpability was considered less than that of a sober person who committed the same offense and the view that a person who voluntarily becomes drunk and commits a crime should not escape the consequences. 8 Although

Page 174

the rule seems [416 MICH 639] logical on the surface, it has proven to be far from logical in application. While specific intent can easily be defined as "a particular criminal intent beyond the act done" 9 (whereas general intent is the intent simply to do the physical act), the ease of stating the definition belies the difficulty of applying it in practice. In order to appreciate the problem, one need only note the divergence of opinion among the jurisdictions as to which crimes require a specific intent and, therefore, to which crimes the exculpatory rule applies. 10

It has been noted that the law with respect to voluntary intoxication and criminal responsibility has shown little tendency to change or develop despite advances socially and medically in this area; 11 and, we might add, despite strong criticism from treatise writers, 12 law review commentators, 13 case law, 14 and the drafters of the Model Penal [416 MICH 640] Code. 15 My Brother Levin summarized the major criticisms of the exculpatory rule while on the Court of Appeals:

"It has also been maintained that the availability of the intoxication defense should not depend on whether a court chooses to characterize an element of the crime charged as separate from the element of general intent. It has been observed that neither common experience nor psychology knows of any such phenomenon as 'general intent' distinguishable from 'specific intent.' It does seem incongruous to make the admissibility of mitigating evidence depend on whether the statutory definition of a crime includes a separately stated intent, and other methods of defining specific intent are highly manipulable.

"The clumsiness of the exculpatory device has been criticized. A defendant who is charged with a specific intent crime may go free if he can prove he was intoxicated; this result contrasts sharply with the absolute denial of relief to the intoxicated offender charged with a crime of general intent.

"If the function of the general/specific intent distinction is to eliminate the defense as to lesser included offenses, e.g., assault and battery, but to retain it for the more serious offenses, e.g., armed robbery, and in that manner mitigate the general rule that intoxication is not a defense, then manifestly this should be

Page 175

done on a consistent basis. The right to interpose this defense should depend on something more substantial than a technical distinction that was seized upon by a judge [416 MICH 641] 130 years ago and adopted by other judges to reach results thought sound in the cases then before them. People v. Kelley, 21 Mich.App. 612, 628-630, 176 N.W.2d 435 (1970).

While we recognize the illogic and incongruity of the general intent-specific intent dichotomy, the remedy is not clear-cut. One solution, of course, would be to join the ranks of those few states which do not allow the voluntary intoxication defense even where a specific intent is required. We agree, however, with Professors LaFave and Scott that this view is clearly wrong. 16 It would require us to ignore basic concepts of criminal culpability as well as modern scientific views on alcoholism.

The alternative would be to allow the intoxication defense to be asserted against any charge of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
70 cases
  • People v. Carpenter
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 12 Junio 2001 address our prior decisions recognizing voluntary intoxication as negating specific intent, see, e.g., People v. Langworthy, 416 Mich. 630, 331 N.W.2d 171 (1982), as the continued validity of that separate and distinct defense is not before us. While defendant presented evidence that he ......
  • People v. Herndon, Docket No. 216239.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 6 Septiembre 2001
    ...on the person who can best avoid the harm sought to be prevented—the actor himself.") (citation omitted). 16. People v. Langworthy, 416 Mich. 630, 639, 331 N.W.2d 171 17. Id., quoting People v. Depew, 215 Mich. 317, 320, 183 N.W. 750 (1921). 18. MCL 750.316(1)(a). 19. MCL 750.317. 20. MCL 7......
  • People v. Dykhouse
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 2 Marzo 1984
    ......v. . Richard Garrnit DYKHOUSE, Defendant-Appellee. . Docket No. 68246. . Calendar No. 8. . 418 Mich. 488, 345 N.W.2d 150 . Supreme ...p. 259, 247 N.W.2d 547; People v. Langworthy, 416 Mich. 630, 645-646, 652, 331 N.W.2d 171 (1982), there exists a more ......
  • Crozier v. State, 86-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • 5 Agosto 1986 is a crime of general intent." People v. Vasquez, 129 Mich.App. 691, 341 N.W.2d 873, 875 (1983). See also People v. Langworthy, 416 Mich. 630, 331 N.W.2d 171 (1982). Purposely: We have quoted from this court's opinion in Dean v. State, supra, that any intent to be derived from the terms ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Just say no excuse: the rise and fall of the intoxication defense.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 87 No. 2, January 1997
    • 1 Enero 1997
    ...486 F.2d 1139, 1184 (D.C. Cir. 1973) (en banc). (94.) See State v. Hall, 214 N.W.2d 205, 206-07 (Iowa 1974). (95.) People v. Langworthyt, 331 N.W.2d 171, 179-80 (Mich. (96.) Cf. Model Penal Code [Sections] 210.3 commentary at 64 (1985). "[E]xtreme emotional disturbance will not reduce murde......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT