Montana Court Rips Cop for Invading Bathroom; Underage-Drinking Conviction Overturned

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Montana Court Rips Cop for Invading Bathroom; Underage-Drinking Conviction Overturned


Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Criminals hiding from the law once sought refuge in churches, but in Montana, bathrooms are now a private hide-out from the police.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on Tuesday that Dillon City Police Officer Don Guiberson had no business going into a residential bathroom without knocking or asking permission.

On Oct. 19, 2001, police were called to an apartment on a noise complaint and possible marijuana use when they found a party in progress.

Officers were allowed inside - though not by the tenant - and Officer Guiberson said he opened the bathroom door after hearing "pretty loud" vomiting and saw 18-year-old Rebekah Smith on her knees with her head over the toilet. He said he could smell alcohol.

"You could hear the heaving and whatnot, so I figured someone was probably in need of some help or something," Officer Guiberson testified.

Miss Smith was charged and found guilty of underage possession of alcohol and fined $100. She appealed the case on May 1, 2003. The state supreme court determined that her right to privacy had been violated, suppressed the evidence and overturned the conviction.

"By entering the bathroom and closing the door behind her, Smith had a legitimate expectation that her activities would be private and that no unauthorized persons would enter," the court wrote. "This expectation was reasonable, given the personal and private nature of one's unusual activities within a bathroom. …

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Montana Court Rips Cop for Invading Bathroom; Underage-Drinking Conviction Overturned
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