LELAND, MICH – In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Department to end the unconstitutional practice of entering homes without warrants and forcing college-age students to submit to breathalyzer tests.

“The ACLU understands the desire to limit underage drinking, but Leelanau County deputies are not above the law,” said Steve Morse, ACLU of Michigan Northwest Branch Lawyers Committee Chair. “Police officers must stop forcing their way into private homes without search warrants, waking up residents and demanding that they take breath tests. Such blatant violations of privacy rights cannot be tolerated in a free society.”

In its letter, the ACLU outlines five incidents in which Leelanau County Sheriff’s deputies illegally entered homes and searched individuals without a warrant.

  • In June 2009, Courtney Moore, 19, attended a party at a Leland home. Courtney had been asleep for more than 2 hours when a deputy barged into the closed bedroom at 3:30 a.m. unannounced. She was ordered to get dressed and take a breath test, as were her seven friends also present. In addition, the deputy threatened that if the young people did not take the breath test they would be ticketed for refusing the breathalyzer.
  • In August 2009, deputies entered a private home in Leland through a back door without permission and demanded to see the ID of everyone present; everyone present was older than 21.
  • In June 2009, a judge dismissed several cases against young people because the deputies violated the Fourth Amendment by illegally entering the home and forcing everyone present to submit to a breathalyzer test.
  • In December 2007, Leelanau County Sheriff deputies entered a home at 5:00 a.m. and required everyone to wake up and take a breathalyzer test.
  • In August 2007, Leelanau deputies entered a home because a parent read on Facebook that a party was taking place at the residence. The homeowner assured deputies that he and his wife were simply cooking dinner for his daughter and her friends and that both he and his wife would be present.

“My heart was pounding and I was terrified,” said Courtney Moore. “I knew they couldn’t do this, but I also didn’t know what to do. I hope by coming forward, this practice will be stopped and that other young people will not have to go through what I have endured.”

In its letter, the ACLU of Michigan cited two previous court victories in which a federal judge ruled that police cannot force individuals who are not driving a car to submit to a breath test without a warrant. In both cases, as well as a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision, the courts specifically ruled that it was unconstitutional for an officer to threaten minors who are not driving with a ticket if they refused to take a breath test.

“By violating clearly established law,” the ACLU wrote, “these deputies are not only violating individual rights, but are recklessly exposing the county to potential lawsuits that could cost the county significant sums of money — money it cannot afford in these bad economic times.”

In addition to ending the practice of entering homes without a warrant and forcing those present to submit to breath tests, the ACLU of Michigan encouraged the Sherriff to institute a training program for deputies on the constitutional limits on police searches.

The letter was signed by Morse, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney James Saffell and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.