Does the Use of “Ice” Lead to Violence?

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Ice drugs

The media often depict people who use crystal methamphetamine (“ice”) as aggressive, erratic, violent criminals – responsible for the bulk of criminal offending across Australia.

But in reality, this is a distorted picture of the real relationship between ice use and violence, one that can cause unnecessary stigma for people managing ice dependence and don’t engage in anti-social behaviour.

The following outlines the link between ice use and crime, why certain effects of ice can lead to violence and how the criminal law views methamphetamine intoxication in determining culpability.

The Link Between Ice Use and Offending

The majority of people who use methamphetamine do not commit crimes, but using methamphetamine is a known risk factor for engaging in criminal offences, from property offences to support the habit to crimes of violence.

The Drug Use Monitoring Australia (DUMA) program conducts urinalysis of new detainees at key police stations across Australia to determine recent drug use. The 2021 urinalysis program found that half of new detainees detected positive for methamphetamine.

However, this doesn’t tell us whether methamphetamine had a direct effect on offending. Around 45% of detainees also tested positive for cannabis but very few people argue that cannabis has a direct impact on criminal offending.

Criminologist Paul Goldstein famously broke down the potential relationship between drug use and crime into three main categories:

  • Economic-compulsive crimes: where crimes are committed in order to support a dependence on an illicit drug. Eg. theft, fraud, drug selling, sex work etc.
  • Psychopharmalogical crimes: where crimes are committed as a result of being intoxicated with a substance or as a consequence of mental health effects of chronic use. Eg. violence, drug-driving.
  • Systemic crimes: where crimes are crimes arising from participation in drug markets, whether selling or maintaining control over distribution, supply and use.

An evaluation of an earlier DUMA program found that amongst the detainees who detected positive for methamphetamine:

  • 26% had committed a violent offence.
  • 26% had committed a property offence, largely theft.
  • 12% had committed a drug offence.
  • 6% had committed  a traffic offence.
  • 4% had committing a disorder offence.
  • 25% had committed a breach offence (such as breaching a community corrections order).

This indicates that methamphetamine users appear at risk of a wide variety of types of offending, some of which is violent and some of which is done in order to feed a methamphetamine habit.

Ice Intoxication and Aggression

The direct effects of methamphetamine intoxication are likely to play a role in some offending, particularly violent offending.

Mild to moderate methamphetamine intoxication can mean that a person feels euphoric, confident and alert. However, a person can also have unpleasant side effects including teeth grinding, racing pulse and agitation.

At severe levels of intoxication, people who use methamphetamine are likely to start experiencing some severely unpleasant effects including cardiovascular effects as well as severe mental health issues ranging from anxiety and depression to insomnia to outright psychosis.

Long term, heavy use of methamphetamine can cause a number of further detrimental effects including physical and psychological dependency, problems with cognitive function and a variety of physical health problems.

Any of these effects can mean that a person is more likely to act out aggressively.

At mild to moderate levels of intoxication, people who use methamphetamine have been known to have a heightened sensitivity to threat, meaning they perceive situations as more hostile or aggressive than they are.

If experiencing psychotic symptoms,  people may be paranoid or have delusions which make them act out in a more aggressive manner.

Finally, if someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms as a result of physical and psychology dependence, they may be more quick to anger.

According to 360Edge, a specialist drug and alcohol consultancy, people who use methamphetamine are more likely to be aggressive if they:

  • have been aggressive or violent in the past (even when not using alcohol or other drugs)
  • are using multiple drugs with methamphetamine
  • are intoxicated with methamphetamine or another drug
  • are withdrawing or ‘coming down’ from methamphetamine
  • have multiple difficulties in their life (e.g. financial, legal, health, housing, relationships)
  • also have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.

Does Ice Intoxication Reduce Culpability?

There are two main situations in which a defendant’s methamphetamine intoxication can be raised within criminal proceedings:

  • In considering their mental state at the time for a specific intent offence.
  • During sentencing in considering potentially mitigating or aggravating factors on sentence.

Intoxication and Specific Intent Offences

The defence of intoxication can only be raised in relation to ‘specific intent’ offences.

Specific intent offences require proof that you intended to bring about a particular result. For example, where you have been charged with murder, the prosecution must prove that you intended to kill the deceased.

The effects of methamphetamine on a person’s perception may be necessary to consider in determining the defendant’s mental state for specific intent offences. In some cases, it may mean that didn’t have the required mental state for the offence.

Section 428B of the Crimes Act 1900 lists which NSW criminal offences are considered “specific intent” offences, including such diverse offences as:

A full list of specific intent offences is listed here.

Raising Ice Use At Sentencing

A person’s methamphetamine use may also be raised in determining the appropriate sentence should they plead guilty to, or be found guilty of, a criminal offence.

Generally, drug addiction is not a mitigating factor at sentencing (R v Valentini (1989)). That is, raising that a person has a physical or psychological dependence on methamphetamine does not result, in itself, to any “discount” or lesser penalty.

However, Wood CJ  noted in R v Henry (1999)  that a person’s drug addiction may be relevant in considering that they are less likely to have:

  • Meticulously planned an offence (extensive planning being an aggravating factor in sentencing),
  • Be part of a serious criminal venture or organisation (and more likely to be simply supporting an individual habit),
  • Be of sound mind and judgment when committing the offence.

Further, a person’s drug use or addiction may also be relevant when considering:

  • Whether a person’s actions were “out of character”;
  • The prospects of reoffending and likelihood of rehabilitation (R v Wood); and
  • Whether a person comes from a circumstance of social disadvantage (Brown v R).

Going to Court for a Drug Offence?

If you are facing court over an allegation of a drug offence, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to arrange a free first consultation with a specialist criminal defence lawyer who is vastly experienced in representing clients for drug charges and has a proven track record of producing exceptional outcomes.

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Author

Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University and a consultant for the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction and advocates for systemic reform to protect against miscarriages of justice.

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