POWELL V. TEXAS BRIEFBy David Guarneri for CJUS 3201, University of North Texas
June 14, 2007
Powell V. Texas
Supreme Court of The United States
Justice Thurgood Marshall
392 U.S. 514 (1968)
FACTSArrest, conviction, and appeal
Powell was arrested and charged for being drunk in public, in accordance to Art. 477 of the Texas Penal Code, which reads as follows: "Whoever shall get drunk or be found in a state of intoxication in any public place, or at any private house except his own, shall be fined not exceeding one hundred dollars."
He was initially found guilty in the Corporation Court of Austin. He then appealed to the County Court of Travis County, and was again found guilty. Even though he had been found guilty in the original case as well as in the appeal, it went to the Supreme Court because the appellant originally used the 8th Amendment as a defense, citing Robinson V. California.
This puts the case in the scope of constitutional law, and therefore within the scope of the U.S. Supreme court. In addition, the Findings of Fact by the appellate court was inadequate for a case whose results would have far reaching effects on the interpretation of U.S. Law and the U.S. constitution (392 U.S. 514). The Findings of Fact by the lower court narrowly stayed within the scope of Robinson V. California, leaving many questions unanswered and failing to define or explain why the conviction was not cruel and unusual punishment.
ISSUEIssues and questions raised by case
Was Powell being drunk in public a result of his inebriated state? Can Powell be held accountable for an action arising from his alcoholism? Is doing so cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore a violation of the 8th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution? Is alcoholism truly a disease? Should a person be held accountable for actions resulting from having a disease? Is law enforcement required to make distinctions as to whether a criminal act was committed as a result of certain propensities or compulsions due to a medical condition, compulsive habit, or mental state before making an arrest?
DECISION OF THE COURTThe appellant was convicted not for the state of being an alcoholic, but for the act of being drunk in public.
The Supreme Court of the United States decided that "appellant's conviction on the record in this case does not violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment," since the appellant was convicted not for the state of being an alcoholic, but for the act of being drunk in public. Because of this, the U.S. Supreme Court case of Robinsons V. California did not apply. In addition, the court ruled that there was no U.S. Supreme Court doctrine for dealing with a defendant's state of mind, and that the jurisdiction for such fell on the states (392 U.S. 514). The judgment is affirmed.
The decision to affirm the lower court's ruling was upheld on June 17, 1968, but with finding distinct from the lower court. Mr. Justice Marshall wrote the Court's opinion. Mr. Justice Black, joined by Mr. Justice Harland, amplifies his reasons in his own opinion which concurs with Mr. Justice Marshall. Mr. Justice White also states his opinion, concurring with Mr. Justice Marshall. Mr. Justice Fortas, Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Brennan, and Mr. Justice Stewart are the dissenting judges.
REASONING OF THE COURTSince being drunk in public constitutes a specific act that has a negative impact on the public welfare, the conviction against Powell for being drunk in public does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
The interpretation of the Court in the case of Robinson V. California of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the 8th amendment amounts to the distinction that "criminal penalties may be inflicted only if the accused has committed some act, has engaged in some behavior, which society has an interest in preventing." It thus does not deal with the question of whether certain conduct cannot constitutionally be punished because it is, in some sense, 'involuntary' or 'occasioned by a compulsion.'" (392 U.S. 514). Since being drunk in public constitutes a specific act that has a negative impact on the public welfare, the conviction against Powell for being drunk in public does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Since Powell was not convicted of being an alcoholic, but of committing a specific act, Robinson V. California cannot be used as a defense for this crime.
CITATIONS TO SUPPORT JUDGMENT Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958)
Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947)
Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 (1910)
Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962)
RULE OF LAW
The Texas law for being drunk in public does not criminalize being an alcoholic, but instead makes a specific conscious act illegal. Since it does not make the mere condition of the individual alone without the specific act a crime, it is not Cruel and Unusual punishment and does not go against the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Mr. Justice Fortas, Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Brennan, and Mr. Justice Stewart are the dissenting judges. Mr. Justice Fortas maintained that alcoholism is a special circumstance where an individual has a compulsion that he cannot control, and therefore criminalizing being in that condition in public is cruel and unusual punishment. He also maintained that as chronic alcoholism is defined as a "disease" which has destroyed his willpower, Powell cannot be held liable, in the same way that an insane person cannot be held liable for being insane in public.