Can the officer ask for my child’s age?

My daughter was at a party a few months ago. The party apparently was attended by a number of people older than the age of 21 and a few minors. A police officer busted the party and began taking down the names and ages of each person present. Did my daughter have to give this information to the officer?

This is actually not a question with a black-and-white answer. Depending on the circumstances, your daughter potentially may risk being charged with obstruction of legal process based on her interaction with the officer.

On the other hand, the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against self incrimination. Assuming your daughter was a minor (as I gather she was) and if she was drinking or intoxicated, the information the officer was seeking could be potentially incriminating under several laws targeting minors.

The officer, however, most likely had the right to ask this question. Normally, an officer can seek voluntary background information from a citizen without triggering the citizen’s rights to be read her Miranda rights.

For Miranda to apply, it is required that the individual be both 1) in custody and 2) subjected to interrogation. In a voluntary encounter, the custody requirement is not satisfied. An interaction with a police officer at a party likely falls into this category.

However, depending on the circumstances, a court may determine that an individual was in custody during an encounter in this setting. A coercive encounter short of an arrest can trigger a determination that an individual was in custody. For example, if a police officer showed up at a party and shouted for everyone to remain exactly where they were at and then began questioning partygoers in turn, the custody requirement might be met.

Depending on the setting and what else unfolded, privacy or search and seizure concerns may also exist.

If the partygoers were loud and boisterous, the officer may threaten to charge individuals with disorderly conduct. Given the amorphous nature of this statute, the officer may be well within his bounds to take this approach.

While your daughter may theoretically have some of the above rights, it is probably best that you try to prevent her from being at a party environment in the future that could lead to criminal consequences.