Austin Harrouff, a 19-year-old frat boy from Florida State University allegedly killed a middle aged couple and was caught by the police eating the man’s face.  Immediately, the incident went viral over the traditional and social media.  He was labeled the “Zombie” or “Cannibal” killer.  People were shocked at the bizarre violence. Instantly, everyone from law enforcement to the media offered the same explanation:  Flakka.


Flakka is a synthetic drug in the cathinone class containing Alpha PVP, which is found in bath soap.  One of the “super bath soap” drugs, it was mostly manufactured in China and available for sale for a period of time on the internet even after it was declared a controlled substance in 2014.  People on Flakka have done really crazy stuff.  Videos have been posted showing people “high” on Flakka displaying extremely bizarre behavior.  Police have reported that Tasers and stun guns have little immediate effect on these crazed individuals, and in order to subdue them, they need to beat the crap out of them.

If someone on Flakka commits a crime, can they be held legally responsible or could they be legally insane?   The short answer is no.  Florida, like most jurisdictions, does not allow the defense of voluntary intoxication.  Florida Statute Section 775.051.  If you’re drunk or high on drugs, you cannot present evidence or argue that you lacked specific intent to commit a crime or was insane at the time of the offense.  This restriction makes some sense when applied to alcohol or other more typical controlled substances.  In an age when drugs can be manufactured that will literally cause you to lose your mind, is such a black letter rule justified?

As of this writing, the lab results from of the blood taken from Mr. Harrouff have not been released.  The preliminary screens did not indicate cocaine, marijuana or any of the usual suspects were present.  He has recovered sufficiently to claim he was not on any drugs.  A “face eating cannibal” who attacked a homeless man in Miami in 2012 was determined not to have Flakka in his system.  Prior to those findings being released, law enforcement and media speculation had been that Flakka had, in that case, made the “cannibal” crazy and caused him to commit the crime.  Maybe these people were crazy enough to assert a temporary insanity defense based on some pre-existing mental condition.  Should they be foreclosed from presenting such a defense just because their insanity was chemically induced?  What if they did take Flakka, but were unaware of its mind altering potential?

Did the Florida legislature go too far in foreclosing voluntary intoxication as a defense in every case?  When confronted with the extreme psychotic behavior induced by these drugs, is it really fair to judge those defendants whose criminal behavior was caused by them without consideration of their effects?  Aren’t people accused of serious crimes supposed to have made a conscious decision to violate the law, or as it sometimes said, to have criminal intent?  Does someone crazy enough to eat someone’s face have criminal intent, regardless if the drugs made him do it?  I’d love to hear your feedback.