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Appeals court says long-standing law is unconstitutional

On Behalf of | Jul 24, 2019 | Criminal Defense

A Virginia habitual drunkard law was declared unconstitutional by the en banc Firth Circuit. It was heard by all 15 members of the court after a panel of three judges ruled in January that a suit filed by four homeless men should be dismissed. The law allows authorities to bring individuals before a judge and eventually send them to jail for an inability to handle alcohol.

The law has been on the books since the 1930s, but an attorney for the plaintiffs says that it is now used to rid homeless people from parks. The court wrote in its majority opinion that the state should not criminalize those who are experiencing mental or physical problems. Instead, it suggested that the state create ways to help those who need it. Furthermore, the law was said to be vague and that it could be enforced in an arbitrary manner.

In dissent, the judge who wrote the ruling that was vacated by the full court said that it didn’t matter how vague the law was perceived to be. This was because the law was clear as to what was outlawed and that there were legitimate reasons for those actions to be outlawed. A representative from the Legal Aid Justice Center said that the ruling was an acknowledgement that homelessness should not be criminalized.

Individuals who are charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony have a right to due process. This is true even if an individual is homeless or has a mental illness. If an individual is convicted of a crime, an attorney may be able to help appeal that decision. If an appeal is successful, it may mean that a case is thrown out immediately or that another trial must be held.