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Illegal Possession of Alcohol (Minor Consumption) Conviction Reversed for Overnight Guest

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed one partygoer’s conviction for Illegal Possession of Alcoholic Beverages (Minor Consumption) due to her status as an overnight guest and a police officer’s unlawful entry into the social host’s backyard. Two officers were investigating a noise violation for loud music. One officer, through the front door, saw beer bottles and numerous underage individuals. Meanwhile, a second officer went to the back of the house, opened a gate, and stepped just inside the fence around the backyard. Some partiers attempted to flee and the officer chased them into the house.

The police then entered the house without a warrant and administered breath tests to a number of underage drinkers. The defendant refused to give a breath test at the house and was arrested for Illegal Possession of Alcohol by Consumption, a Class C misdemeanor. She later submitted to a breath test at the jail. At trial, the defendant argued that the police violated her 4 th Amendment rights by entering a private residence and ultimately obtaining the breath test. The trial court denied her motion and found her guilty of Illegal Possession of Alcoholic Beverages (Consuming).

Generally, social guests do not have a legally recognized right to privacy in another person’s home. However, the defendant argued on appeal that because she was an overnight guest, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.  The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the defendant was an overnight guest because the she was invited to stay the night, had a change of clothes, and was arrested around midnight. Therefore, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy while inside the hosts’ residence. To enter the home, police were required to either obtain a warrant to enter the house or show that there were exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search.

The Indiana Court of appeals found that although there was probable cause that the crime of minor consumption of alcohol was occurring, officers did not have justification to enter the home without a warrant. The Court found that there was not a risk of flight, and although the defendant’s BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) may have decreased while waiting for a warrant, it is unlikely it would have decreased to nothing. The Court further held that the nature of underage drinking did not rise to a public necessity justifying a warrantless entry.

If you are an overnight guest, you have the same expectation of privacy as the host in many circumstances. If you have been arrested for Illegal Possession of Alcohol (Minor Consumption) at a house party, call Gibson Law Office. Our experienced criminal attorneys will strategically analyze your case. If you were subjected to an illegal breath test, we will aggressively defend your rights.