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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Do not enact new alcohol ordinance

No more cough syrup for you! That will be the law of Davis if the city council enacts its alcohol ordinance, which empowers cops to detain students walking down the street who they suspect are a) under 21, and b) aren’t even drunk, but might have been drinking. The cops can detain those students and ask them to submit to a breathalyzer test meant to determine whether their blood alcohol content exceeds .01 percent. For the tiny Catholics among you, that’s a level obtainable through a hearty swig of the blood of Christ. Other than its obvious sacramental implications, the ordinance has three main problems:

1) It criminalizes college students drinking cough syrup and smoothies made with vanilla extract, both of which contain alcohol.

2) Although the ordinance contains language stating that “the [alcohol] testing shall be incidental to a lawful detention,” it doesn’t clarify whether that initial lawful detention must be based on the the violation of a different law, or if suspicion of violating the alcohol ordinance alone will justify a detention. This ambiguity makes it sound suspiciously like the notorious Arizona immigration law, where a violation of any random city code could prompt the Arizona cops to interrogate a suspect about his immigration status.

3) The ordinance does make the breathalyzer a voluntary test, which is great – except that there’s no requirement that the cops tell you it’s voluntary. Now be real: If you’d been drinking and you’re stopped downtown by a cop who asks you to submit to a breathalyzer test, would you say yes? Of course you would. The city should add a restriction that forces the cops to tell you the test is voluntary. Cops already have to give these types of warnings in other circumstances. The California Welfare & Institutions Code, for example, allows the police to ask minors already in custody (for habitual truancy, among other things) to consent to voluntary drug/alcohol testing, but requires them to affirmatively tell the minors that the testing is optional. And we’re all familiar with the Miranda rights, which must be read before any custodial interrogation.

I don’t think the ordinance is a wise policy or even a useful one. Cops already badger kids for no reason; they don’t need another arrow in their quiver.

Daniel Watts, Esq.
UC Davis School of Law alum, class of 2011


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