Just last week, Montgomery County prosecutors dropped more than 30 charges against a couple and their two sons who were accused of hosting an underage keg party. This case raises the question of whether county police are being too aggressive in trying to crack down on underage drinking.
The charges were dropped after a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge found that police officers had “improperly slipped into the backyard” of the couple’s house. As a result, the judge stated that all observations made and evidence collected from being in the backyard was not admissible in court. Montgomery County has a specially trained group of officers that focuses on making sure underage drinking parties are not taking place. The county’s reason for employing this special group of officers is to combat the “numerous drunk-driving deaths” in the county.
This case arose from a series of events on the night of January 4th. First, a Papa John’s driver delivered multiple pizzas to a house and observed what he thought were underage teenagers drinking beer. The driver then reported what he saw to a police friend. Then, that information was passed on to alcohol enforcement officers. When the officers arrived, they positioned themselves around the house where some of them entered the backyard of the house and observed what appeared to be people under 21 “holding red plastic cups.” In addition, they saw several people holding cans of beer and standing near a keg. Officers next went to the front door and told the homeowner they received a complaint of underage drinking and asked if they could come inside. Eventually, both the homeowner, his wife, and two sons were arrested and charged with various alcohol-related offenses. The attorneys for the defendants concluded that police officers never saw anything from their vantage point before illegally entering the backyard of the house. The judge agreed with the defendants’ attorneys, stating, “Courts have treated [areas near the back door] as an extension of the house and as such subject to all the privacy protections afforded in a person’s home under the Fourth Amendment.”
The ruling in this case is quite interesting given the fact that public safety is a major emphasis for the county. While police officers are working hard to combat underage drinking and to prevent drunk driving, the officers cannot violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights in order to obtain evidence.
If you or a family member has been charged with providing alcohol to minors or with DUI or DWI in Maryland and would like a free legal consultation or if you would like more information, please feel free to contact our office at (410) 995-1515 or visit us on the web at www.portnerandshure.com