Bryan Manning, a homeless resident of Roanoke, Virginia, has been arrested and prosecuted more than thirty times for drinking or possessing alcohol. Although alcohol is generally legal in Virginia, Mr. Manning was forbidden for many years to “possess” it, “consume” it, or “purchase” it. On at least one occasion, police arrested him merely for “smelling like alcohol.” On another occasion, he was arrested because he happened to be shopping in a Walmart where alcoholic beverages were sold. For decades, Virginia law permitted a state circuit court to issue a civil order declaring an individual to be “an habitual drunkard” and “prohibiting,” or interdicting, “the sale of alcoholic beverages” to that individual “until further ordered.” At a civil hearing on October 5, 2010, the Circuit Court for the City of Roanoke entered just such an interdiction order against Mr. Manning. “[N]either Mr. Manning nor counsel on [his] behalf” attended that proceeding.
An individual subject to an interdiction order could face as much as a year in jail merely for possessing or attempting to possess alcohol, or for public intoxication. The statute neither defined the term “habitual drunkard” nor provided guidance for courts in determining how or when to apply it. In Manning v. Caldwell (Manning II), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, invalidated Virginia’s interdiction scheme on two grounds. First, the court held that the statutory scheme was unconstitutionally vague because it failed to establish “any standard of conduct by which persons [could] determine whether they [we]re violating the statute.” Second, relying in part on the United States Supreme Court’s plurality opinion in Powell v. Texas, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Virginia’s interdiction scheme violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment because it penalized homeless alcoholics “for conduct that [was] both compelled by their illness and [was] otherwise lawful for all those of legal drinking age.” According to the dissent, however, the majority’s opinion introduces a “nebulous ‘nonvolitional conduct’ defense,” which promises to “metastasize and absolve individuals from personal responsibility for all forms and manners of criminal acts.”