Can the police follow a person from a liquor store and detain them after they exit the vehicle?

Many State College Furnishing Alcohol to Minors cases have the same basic fact pattern:

  1. Police conduct surveillance in parking lot of liquor store or beer distributor
  2. Police observe purchaser exit store and enter passenger side of car
  3. Police follow the vehicle
  4. After purchaser exits without ALL of the alcohol, the police detain the purchaser and they stop the vehicle
  5. The underage people often admit that they provided money to the purchaser to buy alcohol
  6. The purchaser is later charged with Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor under 18 Pa.C.S. 6310.1

Many people question whether or not this is legal.  The answer is that Centre County judges have ruled that the police in such situations had “reasonable suspicion” to suspect that this was a furnishing alcohol violation to justify an investigative detention. Why? People that are over 21 generally go into the store and purchase the alcohol together. A person that is under 21 is not permitted into the store, so there is a reasonable belief that any person that didn’t enter is under 21. The police are not required to know that a person is under 21, they are only required to have a reasonable suspicion. When the purchaser exist the vehicle without all the alcohol, the purchaser has relinquished possession and thereby given possession to the underage person, hence justifying the Furnishing charge.

In many cases like this, the under 21 people are charged with a summary violation of Possession of Alcohol by a Minor, but those charges are later dropped if the person agrees to testify against the furnisher. The fact that charges are dropped or that the underage person is never charged is NOT a defense to the Furnishing charges.

No Entrapment

While the undercover investigations appear to be overkill for a Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor case, such operations are lawful and do not constitute entrapment. An entrapment defense is an argument that the police induced or caused a person to commit a crime. For example, if the police used an attractive officer to purchase alcohol in exchange for sexual favors, such an incident could constitute entrapment.  In this new version of Cops Outside Shops, the police are exercising common sense in conducting surveillance in an area in which they expect to observe criminal activity.  This is similar to police parking relatively close to a bar around closing time and watching for drunk drivers.  While these investigations are like “shooting fish in a barrel,” that is the police using common sense and is not entrapment.