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Can Police Enter an Underage Drinking Party Without a Warrant?

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Many Penn State students wonder if the police can enter an apartment without a warrant to stop an underage drinking party.  Pennsylvania courts have considered both such a situation and expressly held that the police generally can  not enter the apartment without a warrant to conduct an Underage Drinking or Furnishing Alcohol to Minors investigation.

No Warrantless Entry for Underage Drinking

Back in 1994, in the case of Commonwealth v. Roland, 637 A.2d 269 (Pa. 1994), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered a case in which the police observed what they thought was underage drinking and furnishing alcohol to minors through the window of a residence. The police made a warrantless entry into the residence to gather evidence of the criminal activity. When the defense filed a motion to suppress and argued that the warrantless entry violated the criminal defendant's underage-drinking.jpgconstitutional rights, the prosecution tried to argue that "exigent circumstances" existed to justify the warrantless entry. In considering the "exigent circumstances" argument, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set forth the following factors that must be considered:

1) Seriousness of the offense

2) Whether the suspect was reasonably believed to have been armed

3) Whether there was an above and beyond clear showing of probable cause

4) Whether there was a strong belief that the suspect was within premises

5) Whether there was a likelihood of escape if the suspect was not swiftly apprehended

6) Whether the entry was peaceable

7) Time of entry

Courts are also instructed to consider other factors like hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, risk of destruction of evidence, and danger to police or others. The Roland Court ultimately held that the underage drinking charge was a relatively minor offense; therefore, the police did not have exigent circumstances to conduct a warrantless entry. When the police find evidence as a result of an unconstitutional entry, the legal remedy is that the court suppresses evidence.

Consent Exception to Warrant Requirement

It is important to recognize the rights that you as a citizen have when it comes to your private residence. While the police generally are not permitted to make a  warrantless entry into an apartment for either underage drinking or a noise violation, the police sometimes do things that are not legally permissible. A homeowner should NOT forcefully stop an officer from making a warrantless entry. A homeowner can deny consent to enter, but, if the officer tells the resident that the police are making a warrantless entry, the resident should acquiesce. Engaging an officer physically could result in assault or resisting arrest charges by impeding an officer's ability to carry out a lawful duty.  

Consent must freely given, voluntary, and not the product of police coercion or duress.  In many police investigations, the police basically tell the resident that "we can do this the hard way or the easy way," meaning the person can either consent to the warrantless entry or the police will seek a warrant from the court.  Such a threat to obtain a warrant does not constitute police coercion or duress, so the courts will not suppress evidence in such a case.  Over the years, many judges have granted suppression of evidence in Underage Drinking cases over the years on warrantless entry and lack of consent issues.

In many underage drinking and noise violation cases, the police completely avoid the warrantless entry issue by obtaining consent from someone within the apartment. In such a situation, no violation of rights occurs, so all evidence found as a result of the entry is admissible. A person charged with a criminal offense should always contact a criminal defense lawyer to discuss the case and review all possible defenses.

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