Powell v. Texas

PETITIONER: Leroy Powell
LOCATION: Location of Arrest

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: State trial court

CITATION: 392 US 514 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 07, 1968
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1968
GRANTED: Oct 09, 1967

Don L. Davis - for the appellant, pro hac vice
David Robinson, Jr. - for the appellee
Peter Barton Hutt - for the ACLU et al. as amicus curiae, urging reversal

Facts of the case

Police arrested Leroy Powell for public intoxication. He was tried, convicted, and fined $20 in the Corporation Court of Austin Texas. On appeal, Powell argued that criminal punishment for public intoxication is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, because he had chronic alcoholism. Under this theory, he appeared in public drunk as a compulsive symptom of the disease, not his own choice. The County court of Travis County held that alcoholism is not a defense to the charge and affirmed the conviction.


Is the conviction of a chronic alcoholic for public intoxication cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment?

Media for Powell v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 07, 1968 in Powell v. Texas

Earl Warren:

Number 405, Leroy Powell, appellant versus Texas.

Peter Barton Hutt:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Hutt.

Peter Barton Hutt:

I would like to defer to Mr. Tom Davis, a member of this bar and of the State of Texas bar to move the admission as pro hac vice.

Earl Warren:

Permission is granted.

Tom Davis:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

I move the admission pro hac vice of Mr. Don Davis of Texas to argue for appellant in this case.

Earl Warren:

Motion is granted.

Tom Davis:

Thank you Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Davis.

Tom Davis:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

The question presented by this appeal is whether the conviction of a chronic alcoholic while being found in a state of intoxication at a public place is prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States constitution.

The case comes to the Court in this posture.

On December 19, 1966 the appellant was charged in the corporation of court of the city of Austin, Texas with the offense of being intoxicated in a public place.

He was tried and found guilty and he appealed the conviction to the county court at law of Travis County before following a trial de novo, he was again convicted and fined $50.

At the conclusion of the trial, the county judge -- the county court under these circumstances and in this particular case being the court of last resort in Texas, entered findings of fact with conclusions of law and the appellant perfected a direct appeal to this Court.

I would like to point out the outset that appellant does not here contend that Article 477 is unconstitutional on its face.

What we do contend is that as applied to appellant, Article 477 is unconstitutional in that application.

Appellant being a chronic alcoholic, afflicted with the disease of chronic alcoholism who can not resist the constant excessive consumption of alcohol and whose appearance in the public is involuntary.

Appellant's story is typical of the stories of many Americans afflicted with this disease, and I might add many indigent Americans.

At the time of the trial, he was 66 years old, and he had a history of drinking dating back till 1925.

He was injured on the job in the middle of 50's, injured his back.

He's been unable to do heavy physical labor since.

He drinks everyday namely wine and beer.

He gets drunk to the point where he passes out only once a week.

In short, his drinking is limited only by his financial resources.

His financial resources are derived wholly from the money he can pick up shining shoes -- excuse me -- in a local bar.

This averages approximately $12 a week.

In fact, in 1966, the fines imposed on him for punishing him for this disease exceeded 20% of his total income.

The arrest records in Travis County alone reflect 73 arrests since 1949.