Court agrees to re­con­sider case against ‘ha­bit­ual drunk­ard’ law

Daily Press - - Obituaries & Local News -

RICH­MOND — A fed­eral ap­peals court will take an­other look at a Vir­ginia law that lets po­lice ar­rest peo­ple des­ig­nated as “ha­bit­ual drunk­ards” if they are caught with al­co­hol.

In Au­gust, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals up­held a lower court rul­ing that dis­missed a law­suit chal­leng­ing the law.

On Thurs­day, the full court agreed to re­con­sider the case in Jan­uary.

The law dates back to the 1930s and makes it a crime for ha­bit­ual drunk­ards to pos­sess, con­sume or pur­chase al­co­hol, or even at­tempt to do so.

Vi­o­la­tors face up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

The Le­gal Aid Jus­tice Cen­ter ar­gued that the law pun­ishes home­less al­co­holics who have nowhere else to drink but in pub­lic, crim­i­nal­izes ad­dic­tion and vi­o­lates the 8th Amend­ment pro­hi­bi­tion against cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment.

The three-judge panel found that the state has a “le­git­i­mate in­ter­est” in dis­cour­ag­ing al­co­hol abuse.

Un­der the law, pros­e­cu­tors can go to court to ask a judge to de­clare some­one a ha­bit­ual drunk­ard. Once that hap­pens, po­lice can ar­rest that per­son for be­ing pub­licly in­tox­i­cated, pos­sess­ing al­co­hol or be­ing near open con­tain­ers of al­co­hol.

From 2007 to 2015, more than 1,220 peo­ple were des­ig­nated as “ha­bit­ual drunk­ards” in Vir­ginia, ac­cord­ing to data re­ported to the Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol.

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