Crime Homeless jailed frequently under 'habitual drunkard' law

21:25  17 may  2018
21:25  17 may  2018 Source:   msn.com

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The statute is used to repeatedly arrest and jail homeless alcoholics for possession of alcohol…[and] effectively criminalizes alcohol use According to the civil lawsuit, “Virginia law provides no clear standards and procedures for removing the ‘ habitual drunkard ’ label under the Interdiction Statute.”

The homeless plaintiffs claim they are harassed under “ habitual drunkard ” laws , which subject them to more severe punishment than public intoxication charges. Those typically result in a fine and no jail time.

In this Tuesday, May 1, 2018 photo, inmate Richard Walls arrives at an attorney interview room at Richmond City Jail in Richmond, Va. A federal appeals court is weighing a challenge to a Virginia law that allows police to arrest “habitual drunkards” and send them to jail for up to a year for possessing alcohol. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © The Associated Press In this Tuesday, May 1, 2018 photo, inmate Richard Walls arrives at an attorney interview room at Richmond City Jail in Richmond, Va. A federal appeals court is weighing a challenge to a Virginia law that allows police to arrest “habitual drunkards” and send them to jail for up to a year for possessing alcohol. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. — For the past six years, Richard Walls has been in jail more often than not. The longest stretch of time he's spent outside a cell is 30 days.

Walls is not a hardened criminal, but he is what Virginia calls a "habitual drunkard," a designation that allows police to arrest him and jail him for up to a year if he's caught with alcohol.

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More than 4,700 people have been arrested under Virginia's " habitual drunkard " law , which "Since I don't have a home, every time I go to jail , I lose what little possessions I have," the 49-year-old Manning said. She said the existing habitual drunkard law doesn't seem like a solution to getting homeless

A ' Habitual Drunkard ' Law Is Keeping Homeless Alcoholics on the Streets in Virginia.

The law, which dates back to the 1930s, is being challenged by the Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group that provides legal services to low-income people. The group accuses state prosecutors of using it to punish homeless alcoholics. A judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, but the group appealed. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the case.

Virginia and Utah are the only two states with so-called interdiction laws that make it a crime for people designated as habitual drunkards to possess, consume or purchase alcohol, or even attempt to do so, according to a survey of state laws done by the legal aid center.

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, being near open containers of alcohol or even smelling of alcohol. In addition to jail time, they face fines of up to $2,500.

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HABITUAL DRUNKARD defined on the Free Online Law Dictionary. law terminology definitions including drugs, abbreviations, equipment, devices, and more from almost all law specialties. law -dictionary.org.

The issue at hand, attorney Mary Frances Charlton says, is drunken homeless people being unfairly targeted and jailed . "They're suffering from alcoholism, and they're homeless She says prosecutors use the "interdiction statute" of Virginia law to brand homeless alcoholics as habitual drunkards .

Walls, 48, has been locked up at least 30 times for alcohol possession since being given the "habitual drunkard" designation in 2012. He says his father was an alcoholic who was prosecuted under the same law and set him on the same path at a young age, when he would often put moonshine in his baby bottle.

"They put me in this jail to harass me," he said in a recent interview at the Richmond City Justice Center, where he's been jailed for the past three months.

"I never hurt anyone in my life or committed a felony," he said.

Opponents say the law targets homeless alcoholics who have nowhere else to drink but in public. People without the habitual-drunkard designation can also be arrested for public intoxication, but they don't face any jail time.

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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An habitual drunkard within the divorce statutes is one who, by frequent , periodic indulgence in liquor to excess, has lost the power or desire to The necessity of giving a clear-cut definition of habitual drunkeness either. under the divorce statutes or under the criminal law statutes does not appear to.

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The lawsuit alleges that the law criminalizes addiction and violates the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It also says the law violates due-process rights because the cases are brought in civil court and the defendants are not guaranteed a lawyer as they are in criminal cases.

"This criminalizes the status of being a homeless alcoholic," said Mary Frances Charlton, the lead attorney challenging the law.

The law gives prosecutors discretion on when they can go to court and seek the "habitual drunkard" designation. It doesn't require a specific number of alcohol-related offenses.

Municipalities vary on how they enforce the law. In Virginia Beach, a coastal city that relies heavily on an economic boost from millions of tourists, the law is aggressively enforced. Between 2007 and 2015, 616 people were designated as "habitual drunkards" there, well above any other municipality in Virginia.

"They've essentially been ordered by the court to stay away from alcohol. It's trying to dry them out and get them back to some sort of normalcy in their life," Virginia Beach police Lt. Johnny Gandy said.

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The law reportedly targets the most vulnerable, impoverished members of the community, putting The punishment for “ habitual drunkards ”—the majority of whom are homeless — is more severe than for More than 600 people have been jailed under the statute in Virginia Beach since 2007 and at

In just ten years, the State of Virginia has jailed over 4,700 of its 7,020 countable homeless populace — including 600 in Virginia Beach, alone. According to the lawsuit, “Virginia law provides no clear standards and procedures for removing the ‘ habitual drunkard ’ label under the Interdiction

"Our officers would much rather do other things than this," he said. "We hate seeing people destroy their own lives."

In Roanoke, 140 people were dubbed "habitual drunkards" during the same time period.

"Generally, there has to be something they do that brings them to the attention of law enforcement. It's often citizens complaining that the person has passed out or is doing something else," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John McNeil.

Utah is the only other state that criminalizes possession of alcohol by a "habitual drunkard," according to the Legal Aid Justice Center. But some municipalities have local ordinances that make it a crime for liquor stores, bars and taverns to sell alcohol to them.

In Aurora, Illinois, police keep a list of "habitual drunkards." Their names and photographs are distributed to local businesses that sell alcohol. Businesses that sell alcohol to people on the list can be fined anywhere from $25 to $2,000.

"One of the big draws to Aurora is our downtown," said Aurora police Lt. Matthew Thomas. "Having public intoxication is a deterrent to get people to come down there.

"At the end of the day, if it's a chemical dependency, we're offering them assistance — the medics are taking them to the hospital — but if you can make it harder for them to supply their habit, sometimes that is effective."

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In just ten years, the State of Virginia has jailed over 4,700 of its 7,020 countable homeless populace — including 600 in Virginia Beach, alone. According to the lawsuit, “Virginia law provides no clear standards and procedures for removing the ‘ habitual drunkard ’ label under the Interdiction

HABITUAL DRUNKARD . A person giv en to inebriety or the excessive use of intox icating drink, who has lost the power or the will, by frequent indulgence, to control his appetite 210. Within the meaning of the divorce laws , one who has a fixed habit of frequently get ting drunk ; Page v. Page, 43 Wash.

The Virginia Attorney General's Office says the state has a legitimate interest in discouraging alcohol and drug abuse.

"If Virginia could not constitutionally restrict habitual offenders from accessing alcohol, it would undermine the Commonwealth's well-established authority to control the sale, use, and possession of alcohol," the office argued in a legal brief.

But Charlton says the law is used to keep homeless alcoholics out of sight.

"It's a law that is designed to warehouse people that, frankly, society would rather not have to know exist," she said.

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