Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968)

2012-08-16 16:32:15

Leroy Powell was arrested for, charged with, and convicted of ‘‘intoxication in a public place’’ in violation of Texas law. Powell appealed the conviction claiming that he suffered from the disease ‘‘chronic alcoholism,’’ which did not allow him control over his drinking and that to charge him for public drunkenness would be cruel and unusual punishment. The trial judge held that ‘‘chronic alcoholism’’ was not a defense and affirmed the conviction.

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the state court’s decision, holding that since there was little consensus within the medical field that ‘‘chronic alcoholism’’ was a disease that rendered an individual unaccountable for his behavior, it would be improper for the Court to make this determination. The Court also refused to create a constitutional ‘‘chronic alcoholism’’ defense, saying that to do so would interfere in an area generally considered within the power of states to decide. Finally, the Court differentiated between punishment that targets a mere status such as being a chronic alcoholic and punishment that targets behavior that society deems inappropriate such as being drunk in public. Under this analysis and in light of that fact that there was no viable alternative to treatment of public drunkenness at the time, the Court found that the Texas statute, which punished Powell for being drunk in public, was not cruel and unusual punishment.


References and Further Reading

  • Loewy, Arnold H. Criminal Law in a Nutshell. St. Paul, MN: West, 2003.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Texas Penal Code, Art. 477 (1952)

See also Cruel and Unusual Punishment Generally; Due Process