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Virginia Prosecutor Invokes Ancient State Law to Charge a Man With "Habitual Drunkenness"

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posted 11:12 PM EST, Sat April 19, 2008
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Virginia Prosecutor Invokes Ancient State Law to Charge a Man With "Habitual Drunkenness" © Photo: "Sleep Little Angel" Photographer - Malias (Not a photo of Michael S. Roberts)

If convicted of being a "habitual drunkard", Michael S. Roberts of Gloucester Virginia would face a fine of up to $2500 for the possession or consumption of alcohol.

Michael S. Roberts of Gloucester Virginia has been cited for public drunkenness 10 times over the past few years – and town authorities have had enough. They have invoked a little known and very rarely used state law, and have filed charges to have the man declared a "habitual drunkard".

If convicted, Roberts would face a fine of up to $2500 for the possession or consumption of alcohol, and any person who sold or gave him alcohol would also face prosecution.

Brian Decker, the assistant commonwealth's attorney who has petitioned the court on the matter says that, "Right now, anybody walking down the street who's drunk off their butt can be arrested for 'drunk in public,' and there's not much of a penalty, except for a fine." He sees having the man declared a habitual drunkard as an effective measure to help law enforcement deal with a persistent nuisance in the community.

Although few outside of Gloucester invoke the law, Decker says that the jurisdiction has pressed similar charges on multiple occasions over the last decade.

Gloucester's Commonwealth Attorney, Robert D. Hicks said that although the law made selling alcohol to a habitual drunkard illegal, the full scope of the law was rarely enforced, saying "We've never taken it that far. We use it more as a tool: 'Stop being such a nuisance, and wait to get home to get drunk.'''

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