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Powell v. Texas

United States Supreme Court
392 U.S. 514 (1968)



Leroy Powell (defendant) was arrested for public intoxication, in violation of state law. Powell argued that his conduct was unavoidably caused by his disease of chronic alcoholism. He further argued that punishing him for conduct that was symptomatic of his disease would constitute cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In support of his theory, Powell had Dr. David Wade, a certified psychiatrist, testify as to his condition. Wade stated that although there is no clear definition of chronic alcoholism, one who suffers from that condition drinks involuntarily. He further stated that Powell was a chronic alcoholic who could not control his behavior because he has a strong compulsion to begin drinking, and that once he begins drinking, he has an uncontrollable compulsion to drink excessively. The trial court held that chronic alcoholism is not a defense to the charge of public drunkenness. It did, however, allow Powell to submit three findings of fact: (1) that chronic alcoholism is a disease that overpowers one’s will to resist the continuous and excessive consumption of alcohol; (2) that a chronic alcoholic who goes out in public does so due to his disease, not out of free will; and (3) that Powell was a chronic alcoholic. Powell was convicted of the charged crime.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

Concurrence (Black, J.)

Concurrence (White, J.)

Dissent (Fortas, J.)

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