A Drunkard's Defense
216 pages, 6 x 9
9 b&w illus.
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Release Date:26 Feb 2021
ISBN:9781625345547
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Release Date:26 Feb 2021
ISBN:9781625345530
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A Drunkard's Defense

Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America

University of Massachusetts Press
Is drunkenness a defense for murder? In the early nineteenth century, the answer was a resounding no. Intoxication was considered voluntary, and thus provided no defense. Yet as the century progressed, American courts began to extend exculpatory value to heavy drinking. The medicalization of alcohol use created new categories of mental illness which, alongside changes in the law, formed the basis for defense arguments that claimed unintended consequences and lack of criminal intent. Concurrently, advocates of prohibition cast "demon rum" and the "rum-seller" as the drunkard's accomplices in crime, mitigating offenders' actions. By the postbellum period, a backlash, led by medical professionals and an influential temperance movement, left the legacy of an unsettled legal standard.

In A Drunkard's Defense, Michele Rotunda examines a variety of court cases to explore the attitudes of nineteenth-century physicians, legal professionals, temperance advocates, and ordinary Americans toward the relationship between drunkenness, violence, and responsibility, providing broader insights into the country's complicated relationship with alcohol.
Presenting a wealth of evidence, A Drunkard's Defense is a significant contribution, complementing other work on temperance and medical history and addressing the important and neglected topic of alcohol, murder, and the law.'—Scott C. Martin, author of Devil of the Domestic Sphere: Temperance, Gender, and Middle-Class Ideology, 1800–1860
'Rotunda writes clearly and authoritatively about the controversial legal rules that allowed links between alcoholism, insanity, and violent crime in a compelling narrative that pulls together a vast literature.'—Alan Rogers, author of Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts
MICHELE ROTUNDA is assistant professor of history at Union County College.
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