House party Supreme Court case may limit police powers

A U.S. Supreme Court case concerning a house party could have a big impact on police arrest powers.

Raucous house parties and the U.S. Supreme Court may sound like an odd combination, but a current case involving a "debauched" house party currently being heard by the country's top court could have a major impact on police powers, according to the Washington Post. The case centers around a party held at a vacant house in Washington, D.C. in 2008 that was broken up by police. While many party goers claimed that they did not know that the party was unauthorized by the house's owner, the police nonetheless arrested a number of party goers and filed criminal charges against them, including for trespassing. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide if police had sufficient cause to perform those arrests.

How a house party became a court case

The house party occurred in a quiet residential area of Washington, D.C. in 2008. Following noise complaints from neighbors, police arrived at the party which was being held at a vacant house and hosted by a woman named "Peaches." Peaches, however, was not present at the party and when police reached the homeowner by phone they learned that Peaches had not actually been authorized by the owner to throw a party.

A number of partygoers were arrested with trespassing, although those charges were later changed to disorderly conduct. As the Washington Post reports, there was debate among the police officers about both the trespassing and disorderly conduct charges. Eventually, all of the charges were dropped.

Did party goers know they were trespassing?

What is at issue is whether or not police had reason to believe that the party goers actually knew they were trespassing. As a number of the Supreme Court justices pointed out, it is not uncommon for people to show up at a house party without knowing who the owner or the host is. The D.C. Circuit Court had sided with the party goers, ruling that the police did not have probable cause to arrest them for trespassing since the party goers believed that Peaches had permission to use the house for a party.

However, the police and the District of Columbia, who are the subject of a lawsuit by some of those who were arrested at the party, contend that the party goers knew or should have known that they were trespassing on somebody else's property. Police said the house was partly furnished and in disarray, which should have alerted the party goers to the fact that it was vacant. However, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that parties often result in "disarray" and Justice Gorsuch pointed out that the host Peaches claimed she was a new tenant, which, in the minds of party goers, could explain the lack of furniture.

The country's top court has yet to deliver its ruling in the case, but the outcome could have a significant impact on what police can use as probable cause for making an arrest.

Criminal defense law

Being charged with a crime can be a frightening experience, which is why it is important to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Police, as the above article shows, can make mistakes and simply being charged is no guarantee of a conviction. An attorney can help clients fight against such charges and ensure that their rights are protected and advocated for.