There's enough grist in this story about an overzealous police raid on a parentally-unsupervised high school party to power about a half-dozen mills. What really dropped my jaw is this:
Static blares and bounces around the room of Gary Franks's first-floor law office. Franks, who represents several of the teens busted at last month's house party, stares at a black-screened monitor and listens intently.
Through a public information request, Franks obtained copies of the video and audio tapes from the night of the police raid. They are mostly useless. But he suffers through them, picking up snippets of conversation amid vast expanses of white noise.
He forwards ahead to a scene in which an officer can be heard ordering the teenagers to go home.
"I don't want anybody driving if they've been drinking," the cop says.
Franks slaps the palm of his hand on his desk. "If!" he exclaims. "If they've been drinking!"
Franks wants to know why the teens were ticketed when the officers didn't even know if they were drinking alcohol. And why, Franks asks, were teens such as Tarantino busted for possessing alcohol and then handed back their car keys and told to drive home?
Sugar Land Police Chief Lisa Womack has publicly defended her officers several times. She says that the large quantities of alcohol found in the house, and the minors' proximity to it, is sufficient evidence to issue the MIP citations.
"It's not okay for a minor to be at a party when alcohol is present, even if they're not drinking," Womack says. "Essentially, if there's enough to go around, it doesn't matter whether or not they had alcohol on their breath."
The defense attorneys dispute this reading of the law, contending that a mere presence of alcohol is not enough. They will build their cases around the meaning of "possession," which is defined in the Texas penal code as having "actual care, custody, control, or management."
"If the police chief doesn't know the law any better than that, then the officers under her must be poorly trained," says Nina Schaefer, an attorney representing one of the students.
I mean, if you really want to get technical, then the Womackian interpretation of minor-in-possession laws would put every professional sporting event in Texas in jeopardy. I attended Yankee games with just my friends before I turned 18. I'm sure teenagers today go to Astro and Ranger and other games by themselves. If it's really "not okay for a minor to be at a party when alcohol is present, even if they're not drinking", then should Minute Maid Park ban anyone under the age of 21 who doesn't bring a parent or guardian along, or should they just stop selling beer?
I feel pretty confident that the defense will prevail in these cases. Until that happens, though, I think I'd want to check with the local police before cracking open a brewski in Sugar Land. I wouldn't want to put any passing teenagers in danger of getting an MIP citation while I'm taking the pause that refreshes.Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 06, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack