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Example Medicine Essay:

R v. Pahl [2017] ACTSC 68

  1. Brief Facts Summary.

The accused was staying at a Queanbeyan motel for the reasons of working for his employer which is Transfield Services (Australia) Pty Ltd (hereinafter referred to as “Transfield”). The accused has had history of a manic feeling towards alcohol and has not consumed alcohol for two years before January 2015. On 10 February 2015, the accused felt extremely anxious which lead him to believe that his anxiety medication was not functioning properly which also lead him to book a meeting with his doctor, Dr. Van der Merwe. On 10 February 2015, the accused commenced drinking which lead him to experience a loss of memory and recall that he was in an office car park. He had a feeling of what he described as an “almost like a manic attack”. Other evidence established that the accused had damaged fixtures and a ticket machine as well as the car that Transfield has lent him and broke into a building that was nearby the Canberra Airport. Inside the building, the accused activated four high flow fire hydrants. Upon the arrival of the police, the accused stated the following: “In a trance was being chased by three girls and a guy, so I turned on the water… I think the people chasing me might be Asians”. Upon performing a neuropsychological test on the accused, Dr. McMahon obtained a report that the accused had suffered encephalitis at the age of six and a half. He also had a motorcycle accident at 14 years of age where he got a head concussion and deep vein thrombosis. It was also proved that the accused had attempted suicide in South Africa in 1999 when he was doing night patrols during the civil unrest. He was a conscript back then. He experienced hallucinations while intoxicated that’s why he stopped drinking in 2002 but in 2011 his drinking habits increased as his work became more stressful. Dr. Van der Merwe was his doctor who had developed a recovery plan. It was also stated that the accused was prone to anxiety and depression. Dr. McMahon stated that the accused had met DSM-V criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Depersonalization due to childhood exposure to violence Army service as well as DSM-V criteria for Mild Neurocognitive Disorder due to head traumas. The consumption of alcohol with the medication that he was already taking caused impaired cognitive inhibition and had developed delusions. Dr. Langeluddeche contradicted Dr. McMahon’s opinion that the accused had mild neurocognitive disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She also argued that there was no sign of a past head trauma since the MRI did not show any signs which normally it would. Dr. Langeluddeche stated that since the accused was not anxious at the time of the examination by Ms. Walsh, in case he had chronit Post-Traumatic Disease Disorder, it would have been evident to Ms. Walsh in 2014 which it wasn’t.  Dr. Langeluddeche stated that the appropriate diagnosis would be that the accused had an alcohol-induced psychotic disorder. Moreover, another doctor stated that the impression of the accused could have been acute psychosis secondary to phentermine in combination with multiple stressors as well as alcohol with a possible personality disorder.


  1. Issue.

Is the accused guilty under all counts involving burglary and recklessness in causing damage to property?

  1. Decision.


  • Reasoning.

The defense claimed that 0.154 is not an amount that may be considered as an extraordinary external stimuli and that the accused’s conducts satisfied the Criminal Code. They claimed that the mental illness fogged the view of the accused of what is right and wrong. Despite that he had consumed alcohol, mild neurocognitive disorder was necessary to experience alcohol induced psychosis. Alcohol was simply a “cherry on the cake” for the accused to suffer what he did and it wouldn’t have been possible without the neurocognitive disorder. The Criminal Code states that “A person is not criminally responsible for an offence if, when carrying out the conduct required for the offence, the person was suffering from a mental impairment that had the effect that the person did not know the nature and quality of the conduct, or the person did not know the conduct was wrong, or that the person could not control the conduct[1]. Despite the defense’s claims that mental illness was the reason behind the accused’s behavior, the court ruled that the accused was guilty under all counts. The court argued that a mental impairment relieves a person from criminal liability only if he or she did not know the nature or the quality of their conduct, did not know that their conduct was wrong and could not control it. The court argued that regardless that the accused had a psychological condition doesn’t necessarily mean that he lacked a healthy mind. Mentally impaired can’t be invoked as a criminal defense in this situation due to the fact that the accused acted normally within the community when not influenced by alcohol. If a condition is prone to recur when a person is exposed to an external stimulus, the Criminal Code may provide that the person may be mentally impaired but not necessarily. The decision was held that the accused was guilty under all counts since the defense’s argument does not apply in cases where a person knowingly of the possibility of the consequences continues to consume large amounts of alcohol which eventually does result in a bizarre behavior. In case the accused suffered from a post-traumatic disease disorder that condition would have been a reactive condition. Also, post-traumatic stress disorder did not cause the alcohol-induced psychosis. Most importantly, “the evidence about the accused’s capacity to perform at a high level in his workplace was inconsistent with the view that he was impaired in the area of executive functioning[2]”. There was no evidence that the accused suffered from a chronic psychotic condition whereas the presence of any mild neurocognitive disorder can be considered to have been a background feature rather than the cause itself. It basically did not cause the accused’s behavior. The accused may not have been subject to extreme mental difficulties and have operated in a demanding job in the society simultaneously and this is one of the main reasons why the defense of mental impairment must not be invoked. Also, the symptoms that the accused had started to rapidly wear off when he started to “sober-up”. The actions and behavior of the accused were caused by his own self-induced intoxication.


  1. Critical Commentary.

The judgement and reasoning in this case refer mostly to an “in-depth” analysis of self-induced intoxication and mental impairment. As the judges mentioned, it is sometimes extremely tough to decide whether self-induced intoxication triggers the behavior of an individual or the intoxication “awakens” a partial mental impairment which causes an individual to have a behavior the like of in this case. Now, for a person to be criminally responsible and face charges, “Actus Reus” and “Mens Rea” must be proved[3] where Actus Reus refers to criminal act and Mens Rea refers to criminal intent. It is obvious that in this case, if viewed without looking closely to the facts and intention, the accused was intoxicated and had no control over his actions or his intentions which clears him from having Mens Rea. Actus Reus was committed in any case. However, the judges were right by claiming him as guilty due to the mere fact that prior to the self-induced intoxication, the accused was aware that he was prone to such behavior and yet continued to drink. At that moment when he made a decision to continue to drink while knowing that such behavior and act might occur, Mens Rea occurred. In my opinion, the criminal intent arose when the accused continued to drink intentionally knowing what the consequences may be. The argument gets stronger when it can be mentioned that the accused has had such experiences in the past and has concluded that he faces such behavior upon intoxication. His actions were intentional. The disease of the mind test in this situation refers that the accused knew that he was prone to recur the same behavior of delusion and hallucinations. The “Disease of the mind” defense may not be invoked due to his knowledge and awareness of the possibility of the consequences to recur. Furthermore, in Cooper v. The Queen[4], as the judges in this case argued as well, it was stated that criminal responsibility is attached to self-induced intoxication. In case this case decided that the accused was not guilty, there would have been major other consequences to the decision. Individuals would intentionally consume large amounts of alcohol and intoxicate themselves to commit a crime and avoid prison sentence or criminal liability. In cases where self-induced intoxication raised the defense of mental impairment and waved the rights of the court to declare a person guilty under criminal charges, the crime rate would drastically increase and the defense of mental impairment would be abused to the maximum. Moreover, self-induced alcoholism may not be a defense to committing crimes also in accordance to the Common law of the United States of America. Some jurisdictions such as Connecticut and the District of Columbia allow the defense of insanity in cases where the accused has a well-established mental illness. However, the insanity defense may not be available in case the mental illness was proximately caused due to the intentional ingestion, inhalation, injection, or intoxication of liquor or drugs or any other substance[5]. An example of a case was the United States v. Burnim, where the defendant had an organic brain effect and became voluntarily intoxicated which lead to the robbing of a bank. The defendant was not awarded the insanity defense due to the fact that the insanity was not due to the organic effect alone but also due to the combination of the organic brain defect and voluntary intoxication. Therefore, the insanity or temporary behavior was not caused by factors that the defendant did not control, but by factors that he could have avoided.

[1] R v. Pahl [2017] ACTSC 68. Web. 10 September 2017.

[2] R v. Pahl [2017] ACTSC 68. Web. 10 September 2017.

[3] “Clarifying the law on defence of mental impairment”. Lawreform. Web. 9 September 2017.

[4] Cooper v. The Queen, [1983] 1 SCR 240

[5] “Intoxication and Settled Insanity: A Finding of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”. Jaapl. Web. 9 September 2017.

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