Saturday, July 09, 2005

You have the right to remain - drunk

In an unusual complaint, a man arrested and taken into protective custody at a New Year's Eve party around Boston has filed a lawsuit claiming a constitutional right to get drunk in private. The suit argues that "the Massachusetts Protective Custody Law was written to combat public drunkenness and that the police had no right to use it to take him from a private residence."

The circumstances around the PC bust suggest the plaintiff was not a danger to the public nor to himself but his conduct did threaten the officers in a non-violent way.
Laverriere said that he drank several beers, but wasnÂ?t drunk, when officers arrived at his friendÂ?s duplex saying someone had thrown bottles at a passing police cruiser.

When the partygoers denied throwing bottles, Laverriere said, the officers became angry, prompting him to pick up a friendÂ?s camera and start videotaping. Laverriere told the Globe that Officer Jorge Orta ripped the camera from his hands and threw him to the floor, injuring his shoulder.

Laverriere said he told police he had been invited to spend the night at the house, but the officers insisted on taking him into protective custody.
The cops of course have their own spin.
One police report says that Laverriere appeared intoxicated and expressed Â?displeasureÂ? at being told he had to leave the party. He was then taken into custody. The report says he fell to the floor while resisting OrtaÂ?s efforts to handcuff him.
This article gives more details on the suit. Laverriere, a computer-systems specialist, is being represented by Harvey Schwartz, a Boston civil-rights lawyer, an attorney known to me and one of the tops in his field. Schwartz rightly notes, "Heaven forbid if we've reached the point where police can take you out of your home because you're drunk and not hurting anybody."

The complaint filed in federal court, avers that the plaintiff,
...had "a constitutional right to be drunk in private, a privacy and liberty right founded in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

The clause states: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In many ways, this is a classic case of the cop's word against the citizen's but in Mass, the complaint stands a chance of being taken seriouspositiveostive outcome would be certainly be heartening in these days of rapidly diminishing personal rights. Who knows, it could even be helpful to private cannabis consumption down the line.

[hat tip to Skald and Vig]


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