A ‘Habitual Drunkard’ Law Is Keeping Homeless Alcoholics on the Streets in Virginia

And a lawsuit is challenging the law.
News Story (Virginia)

Sydney Lupkin
March 21, 2016

Tags: Criminal Justice, Poverty

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia)


He is one of 4,743 people arrested as a result of the habitual drunkard law over the 10-year period ending in August 2015, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center, which this month filed a class action complaint to get rid of the law.

“Once you’re interdicted… and especially if you’re a homeless person addicted to alcohol, the jailhouse door is going to be completely a revolving door for you,” Mary Frances Charlton, a lawyer with Legal Aid Justice Center, said. “They go to jail and sit there, waiting for a hearing a month at least. Then, they get the hearing and can be sentenced to a year in jail merely for the possession of alcohol. If you let that sink in, that’s insane. This is an act that is completely legal for anyone else.”

Charlton and her colleagues say their clients, who are men and women of all ages, have been arrested for non-disruptive behavior, such as sitting on a park bench next to a beer can or smelling like alcohol.