Vice Squad
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
"No Alcohol" as a Condition for Release Pending Trial

Yesterday, I mentioned that while a general drug prohibition is an unjust policy, individuals who have engaged in criminal behavior while under the influence of a drug potentially are fit objects for targeted prohibitions on drug consumption -- prohibitions specific to those individuals. So if someone drives a car while under the influence of marijuana, he could lose his marijuana consumption "license" (as well as his driver's license!) And if he accosts someone when he is drunk, he could lose his "license" to drink. Probation conditions frequently include drug-free requirements, backed up with testing.

In Bennington, Vermont, an interesting case has arisen. A fairly prominent citizen has been accused of groping a woman at a bar, while he was under the influence of alcohol. (The actual charge, apparently, is for "lewd and lascivious conduct." The linked article is from a newspaper, the Bennington Banner, that used to be published and owned by the accused man.) The accused has pleaded not guilty to the charge. As a condition of his pre-trial release, the judge forbid the accused from buying, possessing, or drinking any alcoholic beverages. Random checks by law enforcement are permitted to check compliance with the condition.

Conditions for pre-trial release are not meant to be punitive, as the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Rather, they are put in place if they are believed to be necessary to help protect the public from potential misconduct. The defendant's lawyer claimed that it is outrageous to think that the public requires any such protection from further (i.e., allegedly further) drinking and groping by his client.

If the "no alcohol" requirement came after conviction, then Vice Squad would have no problem with it, and might even applaud it. Whether it is reasonable as a condition for pre-trial release is less clear. (The judge also rejected a suggestion by the defendant's lawyer that the defendant be allowed to drink at home, but not in public, and that restriction would be much easier to defend.) The defendant was convicted of driving under the influence in 1996, which strikes me as relevant. At any rate, I am uncertain about how I feel about this -- I would be much happier with the "no public drinking" restriction -- but I guess that I cannot condemn the condition as unreasonable based on the one news story that I have read.

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