It may be surprising to some people, but for some reason I don’t get invited to a lot of parties in Isla Vista. Maybe it’s because I still think Van Halen and ZZ Top are hip. Or maybe it’s because I just used the word “hip.” It’s probably more because I tend to be a buzz-kill at most parties. Next one I go to, I will bring my Kenny G eight-track and rock da house! Yeah, buzz-kill says it all…
I had a party in my backyard and some cops came in and broke it up. Isn’t the backyard private? Can the cops come in without permission?
Your right to privacy is one of the most precious rights and one of the most confusing as well. Courts consistently listen to arguments regarding whether cops went too far or not. Whether the question is “When can we enter your house?”, “When can we search your backpack?” or “When can we pat you down for weapons?”, the courts are continuously looking at what is acceptable for the police to search. As soon as the court decides what is okay, a lawyer finds a detail to argue the “what about if…” and the court needs to decide again what is acceptable. Backyards are a perfect example of this.
In general, the court says your backyard is your private domain. If you have a fence and gate around your backyard, it is considered to be private. Of course it’s never that straightforward. Is your backyard shared with another apartment or townhome? If the backyard is shared, then you have no expectation of privacy and therefore it won’t be private. The cops can enter the backyard area without specific permission from you.
Also, if you are having a party that people are walking into and out of freely, you have basically opened the party to the public. At that point, the cops can enter and look for the resident.
So now let’s say the backyard is only for your house and it’s fenced and gated. It’s private, except what can be seen through or over the fence. The property is private, but open to public view. Solid brick walls around it? Nice and private. Chain link fence? We can’t enter, but we can look all we want.
Straightforward? Not done yet! So let’s say you have an eight-foot brick wall with steel gates, barbed wire along the top, a moat with alligators and attack Chihuahuas circling the perimeter. The cop goes to your neighbor and asks if he can look out the second floor window into your yard. He can’t go in your backyard, but everything he sees from the neighbor’s second floor windows can be used against you.
To sum it up, there is a level of privacy to a backyard, but it’s much lower than your house. Depending on the type of party, the layout of your backyard, your neighbors’ view or the access to the backyard, there is a pretty good chance the officers were back there legally. You can also check with A.S. Legal Resource Center and they can go over the specifics of your yard and what makes it private or not.
I was given a ticket for something I did not do. I did not want to sign it, but the cop threatened to arrest me if I didn’t. Why should I have to sign anything I know is not right?
Although I never make mislakes, I understand sometimes it does happen. So if you were issued a ticket that you should not have gotten, you absolutely need to contest it in court. Arguing with the cop at the time you get the ticket rarely has a positive effect. I don’t believe I have ever responded back to someone with, “Why yes, you are with out a doubt correct. I will pull my head from my butt and put my Coke bottle glasses back on so I can tear up this ticket and send you on your way as I beg for your complete forgiveness.” Generally, I tell you why I stopped you, you argue, I give you the ticket, you leave, we meet in court, the judge tells me to pull my head out of my butt and start wearing my Coke bottle glasses, and you walk away with no more ticket. Or something like that.
The point is that regardless of whether you are guilty or not, you are required to sign the ticket. Signing it does not admit any guilt or even concede any responsibility for what the cop says happened. It is only agreeing that you will promise to take care of the ticket by pleading guilty or fighting it in court later. When you don’t sign the ticket, you are saying you want to contest the ticket before a judge immediately. Sounds great, right? Yeah, right up until the point you find out it involves getting handcuffed, taken to jail and waiting there until a judge is available to see you the next court day. Sure, fight the ticket if you believe it’s wrong, but not signing the ticket is like trying to win a marathon by shooting yourself in the foot to get an ambulance ride to the finish line. Sure you got to the finish line first, but now you’re limping and tend to walk in circles. Sometimes the easier way is better.
Got caught by a cop? Your party popped by the Po-Po? Ticked by a ticket? If you have questions, don’t let it eat away at you. Question authority! E-mail me anytime at QA@police.ucsb.edu or call UCSB PD at 893-3446.