In Virginia, a “habitual drunkard” can be arrested for buying alcohol, drinking alcohol, or having a can of beer in their possession. Anyone convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) under Virginia Code § 18.2-266 can also face a similar restriction with respect to their ability to possess or consume alcohol. After a legal challenge, a federal appeals court has upheld Virginia's habitual drunkard law.
Virginia's Habitual Drunkard Law
Under Virginia Code § 4.1-333, any person who has shown himself to be a habitual drunkard may be prohibited by the court from purchasing alcoholic beverages.
The interdiction is generally part of a civil procedure. As a civil procedure, individuals are generally not guaranteed any sort of legal representation and may even have the restriction applied without even appearing in court.
Upon interdiction as a habitual drunkard, it may be a Class 1 misdemeanor to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol until the prohibition is lifted. According to one person who was labeled a habitual drunkard, he was arrested for having an unopened can of beer at a picnic table and again arrested for having an unopened can of beer in his backpack.
Violating a habitual drunkard interdiction is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Virginia is one of only two states with a law prohibiting “habitual drunkards” from purchasing alcohol. Homeless advocates claim the law unfairly targets homeless people who are unable to drink alcohol in private.
According to the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia's habitual drunkard law punishes homeless alcoholics for alcoholism and violates their due process rights by criminalizing otherwise lawful activity.
Challenging Virginia's Habitual Drunkard Law
Last year, the law was challenged as unconstitutional but a lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took up the case and affirmed the lower court's ruling in dismissing the case.
In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel found the commonwealth has a “legitimate interest” in discouraging alcohol abuse. Writing for the panel, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote, Virginia has “prohibited individuals deemed at a higher risk of alcohol abuse from possessing or consuming alcohol. This includes not only habitual drunkards but also people who have been convicted of drunk driving and those under twenty-one.”
The lawyers acting on behalf of the homeless will appeal the ruling before the full court in January.
Charlottesville DUI Defense Attorney
Drivers who have been convicted of a first-DUI offense are not likely to be arrested for buying a beer. However, anyone subject to Virginia's alcohol interdiction laws can face criminal penalties for buying, consuming, or possessing alcohol. The best way to avoid any alcohol restrictions is to avoid a conviction for any alcohol-related offense. If you are arrested for a DUI, talk to an experienced Charlottesville DUI defense attorney about your case and how to fight Virginia DUI charges. Contact attorney Thomas M. Wilson today for a free consultation.