Virginia has a semi-secret blacklist of 'habitual drunkards'

An incentive to stay sober in Virginia.
(Image credit: iStock)

According to a little-known section of Virginia state law, anyone who has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or deemed to fall within the much more nebulous category of "habitual drunkard" can be banned from purchasing alcohol within state lines for life. The process is called an "order of interdiction," and it can be entered or removed by any circuit court — though removal is typically unlikely.

The interdiction blacklist is sometimes, but not always, public, and alleged habitual drunkards can be added to the list in absentia. For instance, the city of Winchester, Virginia, has made its photo-illustrated list available online. Once you're listed, it is a crime for you to possess alcohol (even in the privacy of your home) and it's also a crime for anyone to sell you liquor. Both misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in prison.

Now, in Roanoke, Virginia, a class action lawsuit on behalf of those on the interdict list aims to axe the institution altogether. "This is unconstitutional," says Mary Frances Charlton, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Justice Center, which is bringing the suit. "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."

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