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Lawyer outlines laws, gives advice

By JOHN CAMERON | Monday, September 20, 2010

 As part of its beND campaign in response to a recent spike in alcohol-related arrests off-campus, student government hosted a lecture Sunday evening titled “Alcohol, Parties, and the Law,” presented by attorney C.L. Lindsay.

Lindsay, who left his New York law firm in 1998 after seeing the need for legal work concentrating on higher education, founded the Coalition for Student and Academic Rights (CO-STAR), which now receives 10,000 requests annually.

In his lecture, Lindsay detailed the specific state and federal laws affecting students, the consequences of infractions and steps students should take to minimize their risk before, and improve the outcome after, having a legal incident.

He said the reason most parties draw police attention is due to noise complaints from neighbors.

“The first thing to do is make nice with your neighbors. … If you’re going to have a party, talk to them, have them call you, not the police,” Lindsay said. “Set up your party, go outside and listen. If you can hear from a distance, it’s probably too loud.”

Lindsay also emphasized the importance of choosing a location unlikely to cause a nuisance and draw complaints from neighbors.

“Never have a party outside, there’s just too much noise,” he said. “The basement is the best place for a party.”

Lindsay clarified the laws on when students can refuse a police search and how to avoid forfeiting the right. He said posting invites for the public to see, which can include online event postings, could leave the event legally open to anyone, including police.

According to Lindsay, police can enter a home when they have a warrant, receive permission from a resident, see a crime taking place in plain view or believe that waiting to enter would result in a loss of evidence.

To minimize hosts’ liability for underage drinkers at a party, Lindsay suggested posting two signs, one stating that the party is private, and another reminding minors not to drink. He also advised party throwers to have two designated, sober hosts.

“If the police do show up, you need one to talk to them … the other to be a witness,” he said. “If you’re alone, it’s your word against two officers’. … If you send two people out it changes the dynamic.”

While the hosts should be aware and take advantage of their rights, they should also be cooperative, and avoid arguing with officers, as it reduces the likelihood of leniency.

“The time you argue your case is in front of a judge, not a police officer,” he said.

Lindsay also warned against charging partygoers for alcohol.

“It’s illegal to charge for liquor, period,” he said.

While encouraging voluntary donations is legal, charging for cups, requiring “mandatory donations” and claiming the money is for a different part of the party unrelated to alcohol, such as a band, does not change the legality, he said.

Lindsay touched on other alcohol-related issues relevant to students, including the use of fake identification, which has an extremely general definition in the law, that provides police with wide discretion when issuing citations.

There is not a legal difference between using a manufactured fake ID or using someone else’s legitimate license.

In addition to giving students advice on dealing with existing laws, students can and should take a more proactive role in changing the laws they disagree with.

“The US has the most paternalistic drinking laws in the world,” he said. “The best way to change the laws isn’t to go behind closed doors and break them.”