The recent dismissal of a case against underage drinking reflects the need for a comprehensive review of the way Chapel Hill law enforcement addresses alcohol citations.
Officers of the law are called to “protect and serve” the community. They often accomplish their mission with resounding effectiveness, and the residents of Chapel Hill should be grateful for their service.
But officers are also bound to operate within the confines of the U.S. Constitution, even when illegal activity might be occurring.
According to some defense attorneys and legal counsels, several unconstitutional arrests have been made recently. And just last week, an underage drinking case was dismissed on the grounds that a large number of people were detained without reasonable suspicion and probable cause.
This is a disturbing trend. The tactics of Chapel Hill police officers must fall within the legal parameters set forth by the Fourth Amendment.
Granted, underage drinkers are breaking the law, and that behavior certainly should not be condoned.
But efforts to curb underage drinking should focus on prevention as well as smart, legal enforcement. It’s unlikely that underage drinking will ever completely stop, but there are more effective ways to address the problem than tactics that rest on shaky constitutional grounds and create more problems than they solve.
Fourth Amendment rights serve an important purpose — to protect citizens from illegal searches and seizures.
However, many students don’t know their rights and can be easily tricked into self-incrimination. Students should be sure they understand all the protections guaranteed to them under the Fourth Amendment.
This is not to say that law-breakers should hide behind the veil of constitutional protection to perpetrate illicit activities.
The fact is, though, that the rights of suspected violators are clearly delineated in the Constitution and should be respected at all times.
The recent Chapel Hill police violations of those rights should be a catalyst for the department to address its alcohol citation policy and ensure that constitutionality issues do not become a recurring problem.
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