Monday, July 20, 2009

Hotel Room Security

Normally when we deal with hotel room searches, we are not dealing with the Hilton of San Francisco! In this interesting defense win, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held last week in United States v. Young that a hotel search violated the Fourth Amendment.

Mr. Young was given a hotel room key that opened another guest's room. Later, when the other guest noticed his laptop and i-pod missing, he called hotel security. When hotel security noticed the mistake, they went to Young's room and, when Young was not in the room, entered with a master key and searched a backpack. Inside the backpack, security found checkbooks for other people, a gun, and the outer key paper sleeve for the other room but none of the stolen stuff from the other room. Hilton security called police. When Young returned to the hotel, he found he was locked out. He then went to the front desk where he was detained and it was discovered that Mr. Young was prohibited from possessing a firearm. The police were told that they could not search the room without a warrant, so the officers had hotel security go back into the room and bring the backpack outside the room, calling it a "plain view" search.

Luckily, both the District Court for Northern California and the United State Court of Appeals disagreed that this search was a plain view search. The Court held: “[B]ecause the hotel did not actually evict Young, he maintained a reasonable expectation of privacy in his hotel room. We therefore AFFIRM the district court's order granting the motion to suppress.” The opinion has a good discussion on the expectations of privacy the hotel guest has-akin to a lessee of an apartment. Because the hotel did not evict Mr. Young prior to the police involvement, Mr. Young never lost his expectation of privacy. The mystery of the laptop and i-pod was not resolved-goes to show that maybe the hotel safe is not such a bad idea, even at the Hilton. More detailed analysis of legal issues here.

Good work Federal Defenders of Northern California!

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