The Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments today on whether being both homeless and alcoholic is illegal under Virginia Law.
Four homeless alcoholics from both Richmond and Roanoke are challenging the state’s so-called “habitual drunkard” law.
“This is about a law that allows the state to imprison people who are alcoholics,” said Carl Tobias, Law Professor at the University of Richmond. “Some people who are homeless and alcoholic have challenged it and said under Supreme Court precedent that this basically criminalizes a status rather than an act.”
One of the named defendants is Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Michael Herring who has said the law is used sparingly and protects everybody.
A lower court dismissed the suit. A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit agreed, but in a very unusual action, the entire Fourth agreed to rehear it.
The Virginia Attorney General’s office supports the law. A ruling may take several months.