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A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging a Virginia law that allows police to arrest and jail people designated by courts as "habitual drunkards" if they are caught with alcohol.

The unanimous ruling Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a lower court judge who dismissed the lawsuit last year. But one of the judges criticized the law, saying it "criminalizes the otherwise legal behavior of individuals suffering from a serious illness."

The Legal Aid Justice Center argued in its lawsuit that the law is used to punish homeless alcoholics who have nowhere else to drink but in public.

Virginia's attorney general argued that the state has a legitimate interest in discouraging alcohol and drug abuse.

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