Unreasonable Search of a Hotel Room

In some ways, a hotel room is literally a home away from home as patrons are granted the same privacy against an unreasonable search of their hotel room just as they would a search of their residence.

Fourth amendment protection of hotel guests

Photo by: Elizabeth Greene

In order for law enforcement to enter a hotel room that is considered occupied, they must either obtain a warrant or permission from the hotel guest staying in said room. Without either consent or a warrant, a search of a hotel room violates the Fourth Amendment rights of the hotel guest as “a hotel guest is entitled to the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.” (McDonald v. United States, 335 U. S. 451). This protection against a search of a hotel room is lifted only after the guest has checked out, been kicked out, or served with a warrant.

Warrant or permission (from hotel patron only)

Many hotel employees assume that if they are asked by police to let them enter a room that they must comply with the demands. Although hotel employees are allowed access to rooms for cleaning or repairs, law enforcement is not awarded this same privilege. There have been several cases where evidence obtained from a hotel room has been thrown out as the consent to search was from a hotel employee and not the hotel patron. In the case of Stoner v. California (376 U.S. 1964) a night clerk gave police  access a hotel room that was being rented out to Joey Stoner, a suspect in a recent bank robbery. Stoner was not present during the search nor did he give police permission to search the room he was staying in. For this reason, all evidence collected in the room that connected Stoner to the bank robbery was not permitted in court.

Know your rights

Photo by: macaron*macaron(Est Bleu2007)

Hotels and their guests have rights regarding police searches. Hotel employees have the right to refuse a search of their guest registry and a hotel guest can refuse a search of their room. It is important for everyone to understand their rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. For those facing charges after their Fourth Amendment rights were violated, it is recommended they speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss whether or not the case against them has any basis without the unlawfully obtained evidence.

Chatty Officer May Actually be performing a Consensual Encounter

Meeting a chatty police officer could mean nothing more than they are approachable or talkative; however Utah residents are warned to use caution as a presumably friendly conversation with police could actually be consensual encounter.

Local festivities

Photo by: Johnny Silvercloud

Communities around Utah are joining together for a slew of holiday festivities tomorrow that guarantee to bring in larger crowds than normal. These large crowds necessitate cities to increase the amount of law enforcement on duty. As everyone- both young and old, rich or poor, normal citizen or officer, come together to celebrate a commonality, it is not unusual for Utah residents to strike up conversations with one another. Unfortunately, as law enforcement on duty continues to perform their job while spending time in the community, they will often use simple conversations as consensual encounters.

Consensual encounter

A consensual encounter is a tactic used by law enforcement to obtain information from a person without having reasonable suspicion to do so. If an officer wants to investigate a person but has not identified a viable reason to do so yet, they may do nothing more than visit with the person for a short while.

Consensual Encounter

Photo by: D_M_D

A consensual encounter does not violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights as it is nothing more than an encounter that ends in a conversation and at no time is the person detained or otherwise unable to leave. It is considered a consensual encounter as long as the officer kept their questioning short and simple and refrained from:

• Drawing their weapon;
• Placing someone in handcuffs;
• Turning on police lights or sirens;
• Physically detaining a person;
• Blocking someone with a patrol vehicle; or
• Speaking with force or intimidation.

Terry stop vs arrest

Photo by: David Poe

If any of the above points end up taking place during a consensual encounter, it then becomes either an investigatory stop or an arrest. An investigatory stop, otherwise known as a Terry stop takes place if a person is detained briefly by law enforcement. In order to perform a Terry stop officers must have a reasonable suspicion that the person has been or is currently involved in criminal activity. This can include instances such as if illegal contraband is in plain view or if police have a hunch the person is armed and dangerous and wish to do a brief pat-down. Terry stop often consist of traffic stops and are to be no longer than 20 minutes. If the officer either has a warrant or develops probable cause during a Terry stop, then an arrest is made. An arrest is a more formal detainment such as being handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol vehicle and this act should always be preceded by the Miranda Warning.

Questionable stops

All residents are advised to be aware about the possibility of increased consensual encounters during the festivities tomorrow. Anyone who feels they have been unjustly questioned or detained by police during a consensual encounter and are now facing criminal charges, it is encouraged to speak to a defense attorney who will ensure their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searched and seizures are protected.

Pulled Over without Reasonable Suspicion of a Crime

It’s a common misconception that someone will not be pulled over by police unless they give law enforcement reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation or crime is or has been committed.

Traffic stop

Reasonable Suspicion

Photo by: Matty Ring

According to the Prosecution Manual listed by the State of Utah, “in order to stop a motor vehicle, an officer must have [reasonable suspicion] that a public offense is occurring or has occurred. There are many legitimate reasons for such a stop which include, but are not limited to suspicious activity, traffic violations, and equipment violations.” Some of the most common reasons that a driver in Utah may be pulled over include:

• Speeding;
• Driving too slow;
• Failure to signal lane change;
• Broken headlights, brake lights, or other equipment issues;
• Distracted driving (phone, food, etc);
• Aggressive/hazardous driving;
• Following too close;
• Seat belt violations;
• Expired tags; or
• Suspicious behavior such as visible drug or alcohol use.

Drivers will usually avoid being pulled over as long as they refrain from giving law enforcement one of the above reasons to execute a traffic stop. There are some instances however when law enforcement does not need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle.

Reasonable suspicion not needed

Section 6.4 of the State of Utah’s Prosecution Manual states that “there are times and situations when reasonable suspicion is not necessary for an officer to approach a vehicle or begin an investigation. ( . . . ).” One of the examples given is:

• If an officer happens upon a vehicle that is already stopped or disabled.

Other possible loopholes around an officer having reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle include:

• During an Amber Alert when police are permitted to pull over all vehicle in the area of the Amber Alert to search for a missing child;
• If the vehicle matches the description of another that was used in a crime or that was involved in an accident; or
• If an officer misunderstands a law but had reasonable suspicion based on their faulty interpretation of said law. (Heien v. North Carolina)

Legal counsel

Photo by: Keith Allison

Criminal charges not related to traffic violations may result if a driver is pulled over in Utah. These charges can stem from behavior or crimes that may have gone unnoticed had the traffic stop not taken place such as if the driver was in possession of drugs, was driving under the influence, or had warrants out for their arrest. Any drivers in Utah who are facing criminal charges following a questionable traffic stop are encouraged to speak to a qualified defense attorney to ensure that their constitutional rights have not been violated.