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CSLS: Fishing for alcohol

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Imagine being arrested in the Kroger parking lot, in front of your friends, for furnishing alcohol. Yes, it would be an embarrassing, and potentially expensive experience. And yes, it can happen to you.

In their efforts to eradicate the problem of underage drinking, Ohio undercover police officers will often “stake out” carry-outs or grocery stores that sell liquor. Frequently, they will see a car full of students pull into the parking lot and one student will go inside the store and purchase a large amount of alcohol. The agents, who may be waiting in their own unmarked cars, will watch to see whether any money is exchanged, either before the student enters the store or after he or she returns to the car. They may approach the car as it is parked to hear whether amounts or types of alcohol are being discussed by the passengers. If several students enter the store, they may follow them in to see what transpires.

Eventually, the agents hope to gain enough evidence to conduct a “Terry Stop,” which allows them to begin questioning the suspects. Since “youthful appearance by itself” is not enough to justify the intrusion of police, which might violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to be left alone, the officers are looking for either “furtive behavior” or signs that alcohol is being purchased for underage persons. They might even follow the vehicle around town waiting for the purchaser to be dropped off without the alcohol or for the passengers to hide the contents in their back packs. But, rest assured, that when the police finally do swoop down upon the unsuspecting students, the game is hardly over.

Merely seeing one student purchase alcohol and place it in a car with passengers is not enough to establish that it has been “furnished” or purchased for under-aged persons. The scenario requires a confession. First the badges are shown, then the participants are quickly separated and advised that they have the right to remain silent, but that unless they cooperate with the police—or if they are caught lying, they may be charged with “obstruction,” or taken to jail. Any initial denials are repeatedly disregarded by the interrogators, who seem to grow angry as the students begin “to sweat.” Eventually the agents will inform them that their friends have confessed and the only way to avoid serving time will be to quit lying. Most confessions are made at this point. The criminal charges are then issued. The “purchaser” faces a minimum $500 fine for “furnishing alcohol.” The others will be charged with “contributing money for the purchase of alcohol,” and may do the court’s diversion program which requires money, community service and completion of a class. Only then, will the charge then dismissed.

So to those college students who think that the drinking law is a joke, be assured that the police take it seriously. Through surveillance and intimidation they will try to convict you even though you and your friends could easily have beaten the charges by exercising your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Fishermen know that you can’t catch a fish unless it opens its mouth.

The Center for Student Legal Services (CSLS) is a non-profit law office created to educate, represent and protect Ohio University students in matters related to identity theft, landlord / tenant issues, alcohol consumption, contract reviews, traffic violations, misdemeanors, credit law and more. For more information, call us at 740-594-8093 or visit our office at 50 S. Court St., Suite D (above College Bookstore).

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