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Underage Drinking Charges Dismissed Due to Warrantless Entry

underage drinking warrantless entry

A recent Ohio case tackled the issue of college parties and when the police can enter and search a home following a noise complaint.  In this case, although partygoers were dispersing, an officer entered the closed front door of a private home and issued a guest inside an underage drinking citation.  

The court concluded that without a warrant and without any applicable warrant exception, the search was unconstitutional.  Thus, the underage drinking citation was dismissed. 

The Police Enter Closed Front Door of Party Without a Warrant

The defendant was an invited, overnight guest at his friend’s home.  Around midnight, the police were dispatched to a loud party complaint.  Upon arrival, the officer observed around 30 to 40 people in the front yard and people going in and out of the house.

The officer said he found a resident of the home, and that person began telling guests they needed to leave.  Because the police were there, people were leaving.  After about 20 minutes, most of the party-goers were gone and the nuisance was abated.

Liquor control offers arrived on the scene.  The officer said that he saw a large gathering of people on the sidewalk and in the front yard and porch.  He observed two “youthful” looking individuals with red  Solo cups, which he said is often used to drink alcohol. The two individuals started walking “briskly” away and the officer followed them around back.  He lost sight of them and “assumed”  that they went in the back door of the house.

At this point, there were about 60-70 people in the backyard and 30-40 people in the front, but they were dispersing in all directions.   As the officer was walking around front, he saw to more “young” partygoers with red Solo cups.   The officer asked for ID, saw that they were under 21 and issued citations.

The officer then went up to the front porch and found a resident.  He told the resident that his requests to get people to leave were not making an impact and that people were just going inside the house.  The officer went into the home to announce that the party was over and to get people to leave.  He did not have permission to enter the closed front door.  He stated he also wanted to look for the two young partygoers he thought went through the back door.

The officer went inside and saw the young person from earlier in the kitchen with a red Solo cup in hand.   The officer spoke to him and found out he was drinking under 21 and issued a citation.  Another partygoer testified that when the officer entered the kitchen, people had already started to leave and only about 10-15 people were left in the house.

Warrantless Entry & Search Unconstitutional

There are a few narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement, including exigent circumstances (i.e. the police are chasing a bank robber and chase him into a home).   But exigent circumstances exception does not apply to minor misdemeanors (such as a noise ordinance).   Further, the exigent circumstances exception to warrantless home entries does not apply to any misdemeanor (including underage drinking).

Here, the front door was closed and the court found that the noise was already abated and partygoers were dispersing when the officer entered the home.  Thus, the warrantless entry and search of the residence was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  As a result, the underage drinking charges were dismissed.

If you have been charged with underage drinking or other charge following a search of a private home in Columbus, talk to a Columbus underage drinking attorney about possible defenses.  Without a warrant, there are narrow circumstances under which the police can enter a private home — even during a party.  Our attorneys can be reached at (614) 361-2804.