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Robinson v. California

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Robinson v. California
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    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Robinson (Defendant), was convicted by a jury under a California statute making it a criminal offense to be addicted to the use of narcotics.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A law making a criminal offense of a disease, namely drug addiction, is an infliction of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Facts. The Defendant was arrested by a police officer who observed the Defendant’s arms to be in a condition consistent with heavy drug use, i.e. needle marks, scabs, scar tissue. Further, the Defendant admitted to the occasional use of narcotics. He was charged with violating a California statute that makes it a criminal offense for a person to “be addicted to the use of narcotics.” The Defendant was convicted by a jury.

    Issue. Is a statute criminalizing drug addiction constitutional?

    Held. No. The statute makes the “status” of being addicted to narcotics illegal “at any time before he reforms.” Since addiction can properly be termed a disease, the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court) likens this statute to making it a crime to be mentally ill or to have a venereal disease. Certainly, criminalizing having the disease would be universally thought to be cruel and unusual punishment.

    Dissent. The Defendant was not convicted for having an illness, but rather, he was convicted for the regular, repeated or habitual use of narcotics immediately prior to his arrest.

    Concurrence.
    Addiction is an illness that cannot be made criminal. Any attempt to make it so would be cruel and unusual punishment.

    While addiction may or may not be an illness, of more importance in punishing addiction is that the Defendant is punished for the mere desire to commit a criminal act. No proof of actual drug use is required. Hence, the statute is unconstitutional.


    Discussion. The classification of addiction as an illness renders the California statute unconstitutional, as it potentially punishes those who have not intentionally done anything wrong.


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