The 4th Circuit strikes down Virginia’s “Habitual Drunkardl interdiction law!
I’ve always found this law disturbing in that it disproportionately affects the poor and homeless, much like the driver’s license suspension rules I’ve recently posted about. And once again, I find myself grateful for the good work of the Legal Aid Justice Center.
WE WON! The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Virginia's "habitual drunkard" statute, which effectively criminalizes the status of being a homeless alcoholic. A huge victory for decriminalizing poverty!!
Five years ago, when Virginia's courageous public defenders first brought this tragic and medieval law to our attention, who would have thought we would win such a strong majority opinion striking it down from eight judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals? (Also, who would have thought that the term "habitual drunkard" would be in use beyond the nineteenth century?)
The majority opinion puts it well: "What the Eighth Amendment cannot tolerate is the targeted criminalization of otherwise legal behavior that is an involuntary manifestation of an illness.”
Thank you to our pro bono partner Skadden Arps, amicus National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty represented by Georgetown Law Center's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, our brave clients, and public defenders statewide!