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.

Will a “No Trespassing” Sign Protect a Roommate from a Search Warrant?

When someone living in a shared home is served with a search warrant for their residence, another roommate may have their private room explored as well, even if a “No Trespassing” sign is posted.

State v. Boyles

Search Warrant

Photo by: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

When law enforcement officials began a search on the home of James Fitts who they had under investigation, they were unaware that a locked room with a “No Trespassing” sign belonged to another roommate, Evan D. Boyles. After forcing their way into the locked private room, they discovered drug paraphernalia and arrested Boyles after he stated the room was his. Boyles attempted to have the evidence suppressed in court since Fitts was the target of the search warrant, however that motion was denied.

Vague search warrant

Photo by:  Nicolas Raymond

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Although officers may have known which bedroom belonged to Fitts, they claimed to be unaware that the “No Trespassing” sign meant a private room. Typically, a search warrant will specify which areas of a residence can be searched and what items are being located however the search warrant obtained for Fitts’ residence allowed officers to search every inch of that property. It stated “all outbuildings, garages, sheds, vehicles, trailers, boats, locked containers, and other property contained within the property lines (. . . )” could be searched.

Protection for roommates

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Sharing a residence with others definitely has its ups and downs. While the cost of living may be decreased with more individuals splitting the bills, there is a diminished sense of privacy that comes with the territory. Just as labeling food in a fridge is common practice among roommates, clearly labeling private bedrooms can also be helpful in the unfortunate event that a search warrant is placed on the home. Had Boyles’ room stated that it was the “private room of Evan Boyles” instead of simply “No Trespassing” officers would have to be aware it was a separate residence. A more specific sign could have made the difference in whether or not Boyles’ charges were dropped. For more information on Fourth Amendment Rights regarding search and seizures, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Hearsay is Probable Cause for a Search Warrant

When a judge authorizes a search warrant, there has to be sufficient proof in the affidavit to attest probable cause; however is hearsay evidence enough to qualify?

Probable cause

Probable cause is required to obtain a search warrant. Probable cause can include the officer’s own observation such as: seeing illegal contraband through an open door while talking with a suspect; hearing loud noises presumed to be from a violent act taking place; and even smelling illegal activity such as marijuana smoke or other drug use. Beyond these observations made by the actual office, probable cause can also consist of hearsay – a statement overheard by a random witness.

Hearsay

Photo by: Francisco Osorio

Photo by: Francisco Osorio

According to Utah Courts Dictionary of Legal Terms, hearsay is “second-hand evidence, generally consisting of a witness’s testimony that he/she heard someone else say something.” Like a bad game of telephone, information by hearsay could end up muddled and far from the truth. Another concern with hearsay besides being an innocent misunderstanding is the fact that hearsay could be nothing more than a fabricated plot to cause undue stress on another person.

Protection from false info

To avoid untrue or mistaken information, there are certain steps that must be taken before a judge can accept hearsay. The following is Utahcourts.gov explanation how hearsay is evaluated and what is required for hearsay to be acceptable for a search warrant:

1. “Veracity” of the informer. This means the informer providing the hearsay must be credible. The affidavit must contain sufficient facts indicating the informer is believable or truthful. For example, the affidavit should state the reasons why the informer believes that the seizable items are located in the place to be searched and the reasons why the police officer believes that the informer is reliable.
o To satisfy the veracity test, the affidavit must establish that: (a) the informer is a truthful person; (b) the informer has a particular motive to be truthful about the specific allegation (for example, it is against the informer’s interest); or (c) the allegations of criminality are sufficiently corroborated.

2. “Basis of knowledge” of the informer. This means that the informer has a factual basis for the information furnished. The affidavit must contain sufficient facts indicating the basis for the informant’s knowledge. For example, the affidavit should describe the accused’s criminal activity in sufficient detail for the judge to determine that the allegation is something more substantial than casual rumor.
o To satisfy the basis of knowledge test, the affidavit must establish that: (a) the informer gathered the information of illegal activity in a reliable fashion; or (b) the informer’s information is based on either personal knowledge or on reliable hearsay received by the informer. “

Hearsay usually not admissible in court

Although there are some guidelines concerning what hearsay is considered valid, it is still an alarming thought that someone’s word is enough evidence for authorities to obtain a search warrant. Fortunately, hearsay statements typically won’t hold up later on in court. This is due to the defense being unable to cross examine the informant after the hearsay statement is admitted. The same would go for an anonymous tip. While that tip may lead officials in the right direction to catch a crime, there is no way to use it in court as the defendant would not be able to question the person accusing them of a crime. IF hearsay is allowed before the judge and/or jury, Utah Courts states that “the declarant’s credibility may be attacked, and then supported, by any evidence that would be admissible for those purposes if the declarant had testified as a witness.”

Speak with an attorney

For anyone facing charges for evidence obtained during a hearsay driven search warrant, it is crucial to contact a criminal defense attorney. An experienced defense attorney can help their clients fully understand their 4th Amendment rights regarding searches and seizures and what their rights are during trial.