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Smell Like Alcohol and You Might Get Locked Up in Virginia
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Summary: The Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia is seeking to eliminate a secretive blacklist that allows people with alcohol offenses to be picked up by police for just being around alcohol.

Virginia has gathered a reputation for locking up people for smelling like alcohol. A class-action lawsuit is attempting to take on this problem by accusing prosecutors and especially cops for locking them up without cause.


Richard Starnes is one of the plaintiffs in the class action. He describes his experience in Roanoke, Virginia. Starnes has been stopped several times by the police with several of the times being because he was drinking but there have been plenty of other circumstances where he hasn’t been. According to Starnes, the cops say “I smell alcohol on your breath.” He replies that he will willing take a Breathalyzer but the cops won’t give him one, “I’m taking you to jail anyway because I smell alcohol.”

In Tennessee, Smelling of Alcohol and Admitting to Drinking is Sufficient for Warrantless Arrest is another state with this issue.

There are thousands of others with similar stories, claiming that they have been put on a blacklist that makes the cops stop them whenever they are even in the area of alcohol. The list is known as the Interdiction List and allows anybody “shown himself to be a habitual drunkard” to prosecuted in a civil proceeding. After people are on the list, they are forbidden to possess, purchase, or consume alcohol.  Starnes explains, “My picture is in that book and I can’t buy beer and I can’t be around anybody who’s drinking.”

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Read DUI Drivers Get More Chances in Illinois to learn more.

The class action brought by Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, Virginia claims that five cities including Roanoke use the “habitual drunkard” law to get the poor off the streets. As Mary Frances Charlton, an attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, says, “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. This is unconstitutional.”

Read Are DUI’s Unconstitutional?

The lawsuit also claims that those on the list are punished more harshly for the same things. For example a normal person gets a $250 fine and a citation for having an open container but someone on the list may get a $2,500 fee and up to a year in jail with a Class 1 misdemeanor.




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