Until recently in Virginia, a court could label you as a habitual drunkard, making it illegal for you to possess or consume alcohol. The law even made it illegal for you to try to buy alcohol. But a ruling by a federal court could mean that the law no longer has effect.
A federal appeals court struck down the constitutionality of the habitual drunkard law. After the decision, the Virginia state attorney general told Virginia’s attorneys to not enforce the law.
Habitual drunkard law makes alcohol possession illegal
The law allowed courts to interdict people considered habitual drunkards. The interdiction effectively made possessing or buying alcohol illegal. If the people labeled as habitual drunkards had alcohol in their possession or were buying alcohol, police could arrest them and charge them with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Court ruled that law went against US constitution
In the majority opinion, the appellate court said that the law was unconstitutional. The law was vague in defining what “habitual drunkard” means. There were no minimum requirements for being a habitual drunkard. And even though it is a civil law, it can lead to habitual drunkards facing criminal charges.
The court also found that, since alcoholism is a disease, courts should not punish it like a criminal offense. To do so would be cruel and unusual punishment, going directly against the Constitution.
After the ruling, the Virginia state attorney general released an opinion that attorneys for the state should no longer try to have people labeled as habitual drunkards.
Removing an overly strict Virginia law
Virginia already has strict punishments for alcohol-related offenses. Public intoxication or DUIs can lead to heavy fines and possible jail time. But the federal court has recognized that possession of alcohol by someone of legal age should not be a criminal offense.