Whether you like it or not, the County Board of Supervisors, in faithful service to their curmudgeon constituency, has invited the cops to your next social gathering. I first wrote in opposition to the very controversial "Social Host Ordinance" (SHO) in June of 2008. In spite of the fact that the clear majority of Isla Vistans oppose this ordinance (and maybe that's because it's widely believed that Isla Vista is the only place where the SHO will be enforced with any regularity), it was enacted into law on December 1. As I stated previously, the police in Isla Vista and elsewhere are not without tools to suppress underage drinking. They have numerous statutes at their disposal that enable them to detain people that are in public (or in some cases in the public view) and, at the very least, can seize and pour out the drink with impunity. Most don't stop there, however. The Isla Vista Foot Patrol issues thousands of tickets per year for minor in possession, open container in public, and related law violations. Those under 21 are booked into jail for public intoxication at the drop of a hat. And let's not forget that they were already barging uninvited into apartments and houses in Isla Vista long before the SHO was first proposed. Accounts of frequent and deliberate Fourth Amendment violations by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol are common.
The truth is cops barge in to private spaces because they can get away with it, with or without a SHO. Any true accountability for doing so when the sum total of damages are usually hurt feelings and the replacement value of a beer is and was non-existent. The big difference now is that they will, under color of the SHO, have an easier time holding those accountable who are furnishing alcohol to those under 21 in smaller gatherings. There was never really any difficulty holding the big party throwers (i.e., hosting 10 or more people) accountable for serving alcohol to minors because the cops could either walk through an open door and/or demand to speak to the host in order to enforce a noise violation and the exception to the warrant requirement would sprout up during that encounter. Now what they are able to do, under color of the SHO, is to enter any apartment where there is any noise or other evidence noticeable from the outside that suggests there is a "social gathering" going on inside. That's pretty broad (read "overbroad"). It doesn't have to be a raging party. Two people sharing one beer is a party. They could both be 21 or older but the cops are still, under color of the SHO, allowed to barge in to sniff drinks and check ID's and whatever contraband they see in plain view is fair game. A typical reaction of acceptance of the Government over-reaching might be: 'well, even the cops understand that underage beer consumption and college are synonymous and that they will, therefore, use good judgment on deciding when to enforce this law'. I'm sure most cops will. However, what this law does is enable cops with poor judgment to rampantly intrude into peoples' private spaces in ways that will deter even legal conduct. Giving that much 'unbridled' discretion to a rank and file patrol officer is disfavored by the California Supreme Court and may not otherwise withstand Constitutional scrutiny. For example, according to the holding of the California Appellate Court in People v. Hua, police officers may not enter a dwelling absent a warrant simply because they believe that a non-jailable criminal offense is taking place inside.
I hereby invite anyone who has a case involving the enforcement of the SHO to contact me and I will consider handling the matter pro bono.