I stopped at my corner store and bought a bottle of Root Beer. The clerk put it in a paper sack and I left the store. As I walked home, i decided to sit at a park bench and enjoy my non alchoholic Root Beer. A few minutes later I had two police officers standing next to me and telling me it is illegal to consume alcohol in public. I told them it was only root beer, dont worry. They asked to see the bottle. I said do you have a warrant? They said they did not need one and grabbed my bag, and pulled the bottle out. After looking at it they dropped it on the ground and just walked away. This really upsets me! What kind of police State do we live in! Question, Is it probable cause for cops to search my paper bag for alcohol because it looks suspicous? Were my rights violated?
Criminal Defense Attorney
Yes, it is illegal to consume alcohol in public, even if contained within a paper bag.
Did they have a right to search? Probable cause is loosely defined as sufficient evidence to make it reasonable to assume that evidence exists in the place they want to search for it. In determining probable cause, the police can draw on their training and experience. Most people that drink from paper bags aren't covering root beer, so I'm sure they'd say they thought you had real beer inside.
Having said that, their conduct beyond that (dropping your property on the ground and presumably damaging it or spilling it) appears improper.
So now what are you going to do? I doubt any attorney will take on a civil rights violation lawsuit over a bottle of root beer, so a lawsuit appears out of the question unless you want to handle it yourself.
Or - you could file a complaint with the police department for the officer's conduct.
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