Two parents who were convicted of providing alcohol to minors, and who tried to take their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be forced to serve a 27-month sentence. The highest court in the land denied the now-divorced couple’s appeal that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated by an illegal search the night they threw a drinking party for their 16-year-old son.
Twenty-seven months may seem like a long sentence for parents who served alcohol at a party for their teenage son, but Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney James L. Camblos, III says the facts of the case were “outrageous.”
In August 2002, according to court documents, an Albemarle police officer was called out to the home of George and Elisa Robinson. Upon entering the driveway, the officer spotted two teens holding clear glass bottles, who dropped them and ran for the woods when they saw the cop. He walked around to the back yard where he found more teens and the Robinsons, visible through a glass back door, sitting at the kitchen table.
According to Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney James L. Camblos, III, the facts of the case were “outrageous.” Elisa Robinson lied to other parents who called to check if there would be alcohol at the party, and told several teens to rinse their mouths with vinegar to disguise their beer breath.
The Robinsons were charged with 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors. They refused a 90-day sentence offered in an agreement by Camblos, and pleaded guilty in Charlottesville General District Court. Perhaps influenced by the recent alcohol-related death of another county teen, the judge smacked the Robinsons with eight years active jail time. The couple appealed to Circuit Court, where Judge Paul M. Peatross gave them a slightly softer 27 months.
The Robinsons again appealed, arguing in the Court of Appeals that the officer conducted an illegal search and seizure when he proceeded beyond the “curtilage” of the house. But the court found that the officer had a right to conduct a “knock and talk,” and, since the first few teens were visible from the front yard, the cop had probable cause to conduct the rest of the search.
The Robinsons themselves, who hired separate counsel, didn’t agree on exactly how their rights had been violated. In January, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence.
That the appeal made it to the Virginia Supreme Court is rare—criminal petitions are the most commonly thrown out cases in the state’s “court of last resort.” But the Fourth Amendment arguments apparently weren’t compelling enough for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts and his ilk.
George Robinson and Elisa Kelly, who changed her last name following their divorce, reported to jail June 11.
The case may have the effect of making Albemarle County known far and wide as being tough on underage drinking. Or, if the citizens take search and seizure seriously, Albemarle may soon be known as the land of the high backyard fence.
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