Home / Badge Abuse / State Makes ‘Habitual Drinking’ Illegal — Jails People for a Year for Even Smelling Like Alcohol

State Makes ‘Habitual Drinking’ Illegal — Jails People for a Year for Even Smelling Like Alcohol


Habitual drinkers can be fined $2,500 and thrown in jail for a year if they so much as smell like alcohol. Even worse, they won’t necessarily know they’re on the state’s secretive drinking ‘black list.’

The state of Virginia maintains what is known as the Interdiction List — and because people can be added in absentia by a prosecutor in a civil, not criminal, proceeding, they aren’t given the chance to fight back. Once someone is added, the Daily Beast reported, “they’re forbidden to possess, purchase, or consume alcohol” — or be in the company of someone who does.

“This is unconstitutional,” said attorney Mary Frances Charlton of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville to the Daily Beast. “It’s a civil court and yet a prosecutor can ask the local trial court to slap this label on an individual in the community. They don’t get a lawyer, they aren’t given the right to confront witnesses like they would in criminal court, and often they’re not even present.”

A class-action lawsuit has been brought by the Legal Aid Center against Roanoke and four other cities for the alleged employment of the “habitual drunkard” law to wipe the streets of indigent or houseless individuals.

“Once this label is slapped on them through civil proceedings,” Charlton added, “any possession of alcohol is punished by up to a year in jail.”

Someone caught with an open container would typically be cited and fined $250. But for people on the alcohol blacklist, the fine is an astronomical $2,500 and up to a year in jail for the Class 1 misdemeanor offense.

In just ten years, the State of Virginia has jailed over 4,700 of its 7,020 countable homeless populace — including 600 in Virginia Beach, alone. And the law has such broad application, sitting near an open container or simply “having a detectable odor of alcohol on or near their person” can land hefty penalties. “That means merely napping on a bench by a trashcan full of empties or taking cough medicine could be a crime,” noted the Daily Beast.

According to the lawsuit, the procedural process for deeming someone a habitual drunkard is surprisingly simple — and alarmingly secretive. A prosecutor appears before a judge and declares a person should be added — and that’s all it takes.

Removing oneself from the Interdicted List is…well…no one knows.

According to the lawsuit, “Virginia law provides no clear standards and procedures for removing the ‘habitual drunkard’ label under the Interdiction Statute…Thus, once interdicted, a person often carries the label of ‘habitual drunkard’ for life.”

Of course, the label isn’t only applied to the indigent or houseless — anyone can end up interdicted. Plea deals for even routine alcohol-related offenses often include the stipulation of interdiction. And the list doesn’t work. It hasn’t solved the homeless issue or given hope or help to those with addiction to alcohol.

The Interdiction law has been renewed numerous times, even in recent years, despite being called ‘ineffective’ by experts — it originally dates back to 1873.

Whatever the intent of the law might have been, its anachronistic criminalization of minor alcohol issues has given police almost carte blanche for harassing otherwise law-abiding citizens. Further, it criminalizes those who might be addicted instead of offering treatment or other aid.

  • Thomas Grinnan

    It’s Commonwealth of Virginia. Please edit.

  • Anonymiss

    This “law” is ridiculous. It is unconstitutional and needs to be struck down as such.

    • Edward Drew

      Although it makes the rest of us safer!

      • Jonathan Mckeever

        And how is that?

      • Jerry Pannullo

        Yes, you are a true moron. Do this country a favor and just slit your wrists.

        • Finnur Júlíusson

          From my point of view you are both morons.But don´t go slit your wrists.

          • Jerry Pannullo

            Who cares what your point of view is? Go slit your wrists also dirtbag.

      • Kevin Hunt

  • Eric X Equis

    ameriKa… attempting to regulate and control your personal behavior in ways Nazi Germany and the USSR never dreamed of.

  • Mitica Nicora

    Democracy and liberty my ass… Born in Romania, I lived 27 years in comunism under a dictator and I did’t see such thing…Wake up americans!!!

  • Mike

    What statute are you referring to? Fist of all Virginia has habitual offenders laws as in 3 strikes your out, you get the max penalty, drinking and or being drunk in public is illegal almost everywhere in the us, you need to state your sources other then a no name Internet media site, and state the statute cause this smells like bullshit, I know plenty of habitual drinking offenders in va and none where charged with some mysterious statute that you won’t even na,e in the article, they got public intoxication charges

  • Wendy J. Colby

    We have to take the money incentive out of locking people up. Some states and cities actually pay their prisons fines when their inmate numbers are low.Cash fines for punishment are just a form of revenue not designed to help or punish anyone.No victim no crime and no more calling “the State” the victim it’s baloney.I bet if they raided some posh restaurant where the elite go the law would be gone in hours.

  • Ian Stephen Powell

    home of the free .or should that be home of the imprisoned free slave labor

  • Giovanni Pincoletti

    Is Virginia trying to become virginal. Remind me to drive around this state when travelling south.

  • Cam Alft

    then these law[s] should apply to all cops and court employee’s also,because i know about several judges who have to literally be dragged out of a lounge from a 5 or 6 martini lunch every dam day for court….and i know of cops who drink on the job,in their squads and have even seen video’s of trashed cops trying to pull someone over for DUI while they themselves are are drunk as hell…….WTF

  • john watwood

    We are definitely in a police state. To control the population and to try and make up for lost moneys by not taxing the ‘elite’, this is what they do. Come up with b.s. laws to ‘fine’, ‘cite’, and ‘charge’ us with. Nothing but a control and money making scheme.