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Can the Police Search My Hotel Room?

July 28, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

With a few exceptions, law enforcement officers are only permitted to search a person’s private home if they have a search warrant. The same rule applies for rented spaces, such as hotel rooms. However, in the event that police officers do search a hotel room without a warrant and the defendant is subsequently charged with a crime based on the evidence collected at the scene, the court will only exclude the evidence recovered as a result of the illegal search if the defendant can prove that he or she was actually a registered guest at the hotel in question.

A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Before defendants can ask the court to suppress evidence obtained in a warrantless search, they must be able to demonstrate that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the location that was searched. Courts have repeatedly held that a reasonable expectation of privacy exists when:

  • Someone demonstrates an actual or subjective expectation of privacy; and
  • That expectation is one that society generally accepts as reasonable.

When attempting to suppress evidence that was obtained in a warrantless search, it is the defendant’s duty to demonstrate that a reasonable expectation of privacy existed in that location. In making this determination, courts use a totality of the circumstances test, which does not rest solely on the subjective belief of the defendant, but also takes into account whether society would objectively find that belief and expectation to be reasonable.

Registered Guests

Fortunately, Pennsylvania law clearly states that registered hotel guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their room during their stay. However, this expectation is no longer reasonable when the stay has ended or the guest’s right to occupy the premises has lapsed. People who have not rented a room do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, so it is crucial for defendants who have had their rooms searched to demonstrate that they did indeed officially rent the room. Hotel records, combined with the defendant’s testimony, possession of a key, and video surveillance footage can help a defendant prove that he or she was a registered guest and so had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that area.

In fact, even those who are staying with a hotel guest, but who did not officially rent a room may have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, this is usually only true when the person has been expressly invited to stay overnight. Merely visiting or being temporarily present in the room will probably not be enough to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area.

Call Today to Schedule a Consultation With an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. As such, if your home, office, or hotel room was searched and law enforcement officers did not first obtain a warrant, please call van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim in Philadelphia at (215) 486-0123 to speak with a criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case and explain your legal options.

Resources:

scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1048&context=circuit_review

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=8923558336030767783&q=hotel+room+privacy+pennsylvania&hl=en&as_sdt=6,45&as_ylo=2017

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