From: Brittani Herring
Date: July 24, 2013
Re: Status Punishment
Facts In the case of Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962), the Supreme Court ruled that a law may not punish a status; i.e., one may not be punished to being an alcoholic or for being addicted to drugs. However, of course, one may be punished for actions such as abusing drugs. The question becomes; What if the status “forces” the action? What if a person, because of his/her addiction to drugs, is “forced” by the addiction to purchase and abuse the illegal drugs? Would punishing that person be unfairly punishing a status?
The issue in this case is whether or not punishing a person that is addicted to drugs to be unfairly punishing a status?
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The judgment was affirmed. A state law which imprisons a person thus afflicted as a criminal, even though he has never touched any narcotic drug within the State or been guilty of any irregular behavior there, inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. To be sure, imprisonment for 90 days is not, in the abstract, a punishment which is either cruel or unusual. But the question cannot be considered in the abstract. Even one day in prison would be a cruel and unusual punishment for the "crime" of having a common cold. The general criminal intent or guilty knowledge to be proved in a prosecution for the habitual use undoubtedly is similar to that required for a conviction on a charge of possession of narcotics. In a case involving a charge of unlawful possession of narcotics, unlawful possession, where one is invested with some right of dominion, can be defined as a possession which in the ordinary course of human experience necessarily involves knowledge of the fact that one is possessing either rightfully or unlawfully as well as knowledge of the criminal consequences which one should reasonably anticipate to result therefrom. For, no crime can exist without the combination of a criminal act and a criminal intent, or an evil motive, or with a guilty knowledge of its consequences.
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