Robinson v. California

Supreme Court of the United States.  370 U.S. 660 (1962)

Facts: Appellant has been convicted under a CA statute that makes it a criminal offense for a person to “be addicted to the use of narcotics”.  The appeal questions the constitutionality of the state law.  Appellant was convicted on evidence that police observed track marks, and heard him admit to occasional use of narcotics.  The statute makes the “status” of drug addiction a crime for which the offender can be prosecuted at any time before he reforms.

Procedural History: Appellant found guilty in the Municipal Court of LA.

Issue: Is the statute in question constitutional?

Holding; No, the statute is not constitutional.

Reasoning:  Narcotic addiction is an illness which may be contracted innocently or involuntarily.  A state law that imprisons an individual even though he has never touched a drug…inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Disposition: Reversed.

Comments: J. Harlan wrote a concurring opinion stating that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him…J. White wrote a dissenting opinion stating that appellant’s conviction is based on the regular, repeated or habitual use of narcotics immediately prior to his arrest and in violation of the CA law.  The Court recognizes no degrees of addiction.

***One reading of this ruling is that there is no act in this situation.

***Another is that addiction is a disease and it is cruel and unusual to punish somebody for a disease.

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