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Virginia law means more DUI charges for some

An archaic Virginia law that is still on the books allows for a person who has been convicted of drunk driving to be deemed a “habitual drunkard.” This means that the person is not permitted to possess alcohol and if they are found in possession of it — or even merely being near it — they can be fined up to $2,500 and spend up to 12 months in jail.

The law dates to 1873, and Utah is the only other state in the nation with a similar law. From 2007 to 2018, just over 1,700 individuals were declared habitual drunkards in the commonwealth. While the aim of the law may be to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road, there are those who are challenging the constitutionality of the law, and attempts had been made in the past to have the law repealed.

In one lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim the law subjected them to cruel and unusual punishment, that the law is unconstitutionally vague and that it is in violation of their due process rights, as the cases are processed in Civil Court, meaning that even though there are criminal penalties the defendant is not guaranteed legal representation. Critics have also claimed the law unfairly targets the homeless population.

It remains to be seen if any changes will be made to this problematic law. It serves as a good reminder that it is possible to face drunk driving charges even if your blood alcohol concentration is below 0.08%. If you still show signs of impairment – or, for “habitual drunkards,” any sign of alcohol consumption — you could still be criminally charged if you get behind the wheel of a car. Because the stakes are so high when it comes to DUI, it is important that any charges do not violate your rights.

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