It’s the harshest buzz-kill, the worst-case scenario and a bad nightmare: cops busting the party. You’re at a fraternity, sorority, or a house party when you hear that dreaded pounding on the door. The police have arrived. What comes next? If they’re taking names and making arrests, you could be in some serious trouble. Experienced Philadelphia Trial Lawyer, John Konchak, provided the following ins and outs of what your rights are and how to stay out of trouble.
First of all, do not let the police in if you don’t want to. There are three instances where you have to let the police in. First instance is if the police have reason to suspect that criminal or felony activity is occurring. This is known as probable cause or “exigent circumstances.” An example would be a circumstance where there are gunshots fired or other heinous criminal activity. Secondly, they have to have a warrant. The third is really a measure of your own intelligence. If an officer comes to the door and sees alcohol being consumed by (people who appear to be) minors, or any drug activity, than that officer may have the right and obligation to enter. The solution is to always have someone of age, ideally not smelling like a brewery, who lives in the residence to answer the door. Everyone else should stay away from the door and let them talk. Generally speaking, if the police are responding to a noise complaint or something of that nature, then they don’t have a right to enter the house.
But what if no one is watching the door and the police stroll right in? You may have a problem. If the police do knock and then open the door and see a keg or a bunch of people that appear to be underage drinking, then he has now actually witnessed the crime and must do something about it. Essentially, what they’ll do is called “maintain the status quo.” That means no one can leave, move or destroy evidence until the rest of the police have obtained a warrant and come back with it. Remember- the police have no right to burst into a residence at will. Unless there is a serious disturbance going on inside like a fight, where someone might get hurt, or gunshots, which are considered exigent circumstances.
If the police do get inside and they are questioning people, technically you don’t have to tell them anything. Nevertheless, it’s not a good idea to ‘stonewall’ the police, because they may end up arresting you. To avoid that just be polite and identify yourself. Also, if there is food, eat some or chew gum. Try to avoid smelling like alcohol. You should cooperate fully because underage drinking is not a very serious crime. In fact most people don’t really get arrested. You get a citation, like a ticket. If the police realize that you are driving, then they may detain you until your parents or another adult can come get you.
If you do get arrested you never have to give them any additional information once you’ve identified yourself. Your best bet is to keep quiet until you have legal counsel at your side. You’ll eventually have to attend a hearing at a district police station for a summary offense. Ideally, you should bring your parents with you. If you’ve never been arrested before you should also bring a copy of your school records with you if you’re doing well in school. This will show the judge that you’re not a complete delinquent. Most of the time, when you go to the hearing at the district court and you have not been in trouble before, the judge will discharge the case and just give the student a warning about underage drinking.
Do not go and plead guilty. Many kids think it’s the easiest thing to do because the sentence is usually just community service or a $25 fine. However, that’s not entirely true. If you have yet to obtain your license to drive, they may postpone your ability to do so as part of the Motor Vehicle Code. You might not be able to get your license until you are of legal drinking age.
In the end, the best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid this kind of situation entirely. If you must drink, don’t drive. If you have to drive, don’t drink.
Mike Walls can be reached at Mike18212@aol.com.