Brief Fact Summary. Appellant claims his conviction for possession of heroin was improper because he is an addict with an overpowering need to use heroin. Therefore, he should not be liable for possessing the drug.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Evidence of an individual’s dependence on a drug which allegedly results in the loss of control over the use of the drug is not relevant to criminal responsibility for unlawful possession.
Issue. Is the Appellant’s addiction a defense to the crime of possession of heroin?
Held. No. Conviction affirmed.
The Appellant’s main argument is that the common law has determined that the capacity to control behavior is a prerequisite for criminal responsibility. Drug addiction of differing degrees may or may not result in the loss of self-control. According to the Appellant, an absence of free will only occurs when there is a loss of self-control. Therefore, if there is an absence of free will, the illegal act of possession cannot be charged to the user of the drugs. However, due to the peculiar nature of the problems of heroin trafficking, certain policy are necessary and should not be weakened by the creation of such a defense.
Contrary to Appellant’s argument, Robinson does not provide authority for the proposition that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment precludes punishment of an addict for acts he is compelled to do by his addiction. Robinson merely exemplifies repugnance at the prospect of punishing one for his status as an addict. There is no Supreme Court holding which indicates it is not criminal to give in to the irresistible compulsions of a disease.
Judge Wright dissenting: A drug addict who lacks the substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law due to his drug use should not be held criminally liable for the mere possession of drugs for his own use. If a man does not possess free will or is unable to act voluntarily, he is outside the realm of punishment in the law. The argument used most often in favor of punishing addicts is the notion of a deterrent effect. However, deterrence presupposes rationality on the part of the individual. A drug addict’s normal sense of reason is overcome by the psychological and physiological compulsions of the disease.
Chief Judge Bazelon concurring in part and dissenting in part: This judge would almost allow a jury to consider addiction as a defense to a charge of say armed robbery or trafficking in drugs to conclude whether the defendant was under such duress or compulsion due to his addiction that he was unable to conform his conduct to the legal requirements.
Concurrence. Judge Leventhal and Judge McGowan concurring: The Appellant’s key defense concepts are impairment of behavioral control and loss of self-control. These concepts have been considered under discussions pertaining to the insanity defense. Appellant asserts that the mens rea element of criminal responsibility requires freedom of will, which is negated by the impairment of behavioral control. Even if one condition (i.e., mental disease) yields an exculpatory defense if it results in impairment and lack of control, it does not necessarily follow that some other condition impairs behavior controls. The elements of a voluntary act and a mental state are required for criminal responsibility. These two elements are clearly fulfilled by an offense of knowing possession of a prohibited article. In addition, there is considerable difficulty in verifying the claim that a drug user in unable to refrain from use.
Discussion. The most feasible thing to do with lesser disabilities which do not fall into the gambit of mental disease or defect is to accord them proper weight in sentencing. There is no broad common law principle of exculpation on the ground of lack of cont