Who Will Help the “Habitual Drunkards?”
For the last 2+ years, a Virginia law has frequently been in the news, both locally and nationally. At some point, Virginia lawmakers will probably want to do something about this law. The news from it is rarely flattering.
This law is often referred to as the “habitual drunkard” law, or interdiction, and Virginia lawmakers may be forced into doing something about it. There’s a legal challenge against the law right now. The group challenging the law says that it strips away the Fourth Amendment rights for and attempts to hide a forgetful group of Virginia's citizens.
It is time to take a look at what it is.
What Is the “Habitual Drunkard” Law?
The term “habitual drunkard” is found in three different places within the Code of Virginia. Interestingly, none of the three define the term, though, which is part of the current problem. The first legal use of the term takes away a “habitual drunkard’s” ability to buy alcohol. The second use takes away the ability of the “habitual drunkard” to own a gun. The third use allows a trust company to act as guardian over the “habitual drunkard’s” person and/or estate.
The law is pretty clear on what gets taken away with this label. However, how do you get the label in the first place?
What Is a “Habitual Drunkard?”
Believe it or not, there is no clear definition of a habitual drunkard. Perhaps a judge just knows one when he sees one. The Code of Virginia provides various procedures before a person can be "interdicted", however.
So many of the topics on this blog examine the difficult, if not impossible, task that lawmakers attempt whenever they try to take an objective issue and turn it into a black-and-white law. Without a doubt, the “habitual drunkard” concept is also a troublesome issue. According to Vice News, 4,743 people were arrested under this law between 2005 and 2015. 1,220 of them were arrested in Virginia, according to The Roanoke Times.
These people are often alcoholics and sometimes homeless, but do not they also have legal rights?
Remember that first use of the law that takes away the ability of a “habitual drunkard” to buy alcohol? Well, that process occurs in civil court, which means that these defendants rarely have lawyers representing them. Because “habitual drunkards” cannot be around alcohol, they are often arrested for the simplest of things – again, according to Vice, simply for “sitting on a park bench next to a beer can or smelling like alcohol.”
Who Is Helping the “Habitual Drunkards?”
The frequent use of this term in quotation marks should be starting to sound like something out of The Andy Griffith Show by now. Who is fighting against this law? For one, the Legal Aid Justice Center. They are attempting to argue that this law – only a part of the law in two states (Virginia and also Utah) – unfairly targets homeless alcoholics.
Their first attempt failed. A judge dismissed their lawsuit last year, but the organization has appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That is where it sits right now.
Everyone, including our citizens who are struggling the most, deserves a chance. The government has a duty to protect us from evildoers. But, as is the case with most laws, there is a sin vs. crime distinction that must be resolved. Everybody deserves their Fourth Amendment rights to free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If this is you or someone you know, start by calling or e-mailing today for a free consultation!
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