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IS THERE AN EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY IN A HOTEL ROOM?

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As a general proposition, a person who rents a hotel/motel room has the same expectation or privacy as a homeowner has in their own home. This remains true while the room is currently rented. This expectation of privacy ends when the term of the rental ends for any reason, the most common being that the rental period has expired.  A couple of cases, one out ofKentuckyand one out ofMassachusetts, highlight interesting twists on this expectation.

In the Kentucky case a person was stopped for a traffic violation. The driver consented to a search of the car. The search turned up some marijuana and meth pipes.  The passenger admitted that the bag which held the marijuana and meth pipes belonged to him. During the search a hotel room key was found.

Officers went to the hotel and found that the room had been rented to the passenger but the rental period had expired. The officers then entered the room, without a warrant, and found a meth lab and ID of the passenger.

The passenger argued that the police arrested him thus preventing him from returning to the hotel and extending the rental of the room. He further claimed that because of this his expectation of privacy should have continued, and that a warrant was required.

The court did not buy that argument and found that there was no evidence that the police arrested him for the purpose of preventing him from renewing his hotel room.  As such, the hotel management could consent to a search of an unrented room.

In the Massachusetts case a person rented a room for three nights.  As part of the rental agreement he agreed to abide by all federal, state and local laws, as well as all hotel rules or he would be evicted.  After a couple of complaints from other guests hotel security went to the room.

There they smelled marijuana coming from the room, and when no one answered the door, they went in and found scales and marijuana. They left and doubled locked the door so that the guest could not re-enter without seeing management. They also called the police. Hotel security admitted the police to the room, and they observed the same things as security had observed, plus a loaded gun.

When the guest returned, the manager called the police; the guest was arrested and a warrant obtained to search the room. The guest argued to the court that the warrant was invalid because it was based on an unlawful search, in that his rental period had not expired. The court held that the guest had been evicted when security had doubled locked the door, and that the guest did not have to be personally notified because the rental agreement provided that he could be evicted for violating any law. Once he had violated the law and been evicted, hotel security could then lawfully allow the police in without a warrant.

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