Did Police Violate Student’s Rights?

by Jack

The following is my opinion and should not be considered legal advice

It’s a ritual that keeps on growing, this is the annual Labor Day float down the Sacramento river.  And as it’s grown so have the problems associated with drinking and rowdy behavior.   Most notably we have the death of 20 year old Brett Olson, a Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo student.   He was under the influence of cocaine mixed with alcohol and when he slipped into the water nobody noticed and he drowned.    However, this was not typical behavior of the thousands of reasonable tubers who have participated in this event responsibly, but now they are all being held accountable with a complete alcohol ban on the river for the actions of the very few.  

It’s unfortunate that Olson died, but he was an adult and he made a bad choice, that’s life.  However, to hold thousands of other people who chose not to follow his example is typical of a Nanny State that seeks to protect everyone from everything.   I would rather have my freedom and take my chances.   The Nanny State is getting to big and too involved in our lives.      

The Alcohol Beverage Control, CHP, Fish and Game and the Butte and Glenn County Sheriff’s Dept. had the responsibility this year to enforce a total alcohol ban on the river in the traditional tubing area which stretches from the Irvine Finch River Access to Scotty’s Landing.  The new law says, people will not be allowed to consume or have open alcoholic containers within 50 feet of any water.  Possession of alcohol on the water is also prohibited.   If you do it, the fine could be up to $380!  So there it is, on one side we want people to be safe and not trash the river, and on the other side we don’t want government to get too heavy handed and deny people their fun and freedom. 

Photos in the ER show law enforcement doing searches of  flotation devices looking for alcohol and we don’t know if these searches were legal or not.   However,  a search of personal property merely because law enforcement is curious if booze or contraband is hidden inside is absolutely illegal and it’s an infringment of our 4th amendment right.  

The 4th amendment is very specific when it says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”   Is carrying an ice chest to the river an invitation for a police search?  No!  Is drinking a beverage on the river probable cause for police to assume it’s alcoholic and therefore police can seize it for further checking?  No!  

Probable cause is established when the police have a “reasonable cause” to believe a crime has been committed.  Merely observing a person drinking a coke is not sufficient, but if there is an odor of alcohol is coming from the container and the officer can smell it, this could constitute probable cause to investigate further.  If the person holding the beverage is exhibiting signs of intoxicati0n, then this too may give an officer probable cause  to investigate further.   Random, warrantless searches is generally not legal.

I’m all in favor of law enforcement keeping everyone safe on their river adventure, but it’s also important that law enforcement do it without violating anyone’s rights, agree?        


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2 Responses to Did Police Violate Student’s Rights?

  1. Tina says:

    I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense to punish the law abiding folks who float responsibly.

    It sure seems like there should be a way to hammer troublemakers hard when they cause trouble to discourage bad behavior…hefty fines, community service, jail time…without the search and seizure bit and without closing the event, which will come next, I suppose.

    There should be a way to permanently ban those who are repeat offenders.

    In the case of the death it is indeed unfortunate but it is also moronic to associate the death with the event. Life does not guarantee a risk free ride all the way to the end. The young man made a very bad choice that day and he paid a hefty price. His friends may have played an irresponsible part in an unfortunate set of circumstances but that still does not change the fated element that none of us can explain when something tragic happens. The other floaters and tubers had absolutely nothing to do with his death.

    We unfortunately live in times where the risks have increased…considering the stabbings and shootings around town…has that also been a concern?

  2. Dewey_Bueno says:

    Our Rights are being abused and have for years. Every president seems to lay down on this issue. Bottom Line the privatization of our security for profit is a dangerous thing. Which countries get the info? Why does Pappy Bush and his cronies profit off Booz Allen and the NSA?

    I hear the same people crying out shrink the Gov putting the laws in place. Shrink the gov? Why who protects the people? Fix the Gov, get the money out of politics and stop watching corporate media.

    Sacramento police also have drones and military gear. Wake Up !

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