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When Can Police in Florida Search a Person’s Hotel Room for Drugs?

The Constitution protects a person’s home, vehicle and other property from unreasonable searches. This normally means that the police must either have consent to search or a search warrant before they search something that belongs to another person. However, some items or locations are not as clearly protected from police searches.

For instance, what Constitutional protections are involved with hotel rooms? The law is not completely clear and whether a search is valid depends on the circumstances of the case, but some rules do seem to be fairly certain. If a person registers for a hotel room, pays the fee and is lawfully in the room, that hotel room has similar Constitutional protections to a house. In that situation, the police cannot just walk in without permission or a search warrant. The police also cannot go to the manager’s office or hotel security and have them let the police into the hotel room without the consent of the person who rented the room or a search warrant. However, if the room is rented until a certain date and time and the occupant does not pay to keep renting the room beyond that time, the police can likely have the manager let them in the room to search it. For instance, if a person rents the room for Monday night and checkout time is 10:00 am on Tuesday and the person does not pay for Tuesday, the police may be able to go into the room to search it after 10:00 am on Tuesday.

What about a guest of the person who rented the room? If Person A rents the room and allows Person B to stay in the room as well, can Person B challenge an illegal search of that room? That depends on the circumstances. If Person B can establish that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the room, Person B may be able to challenge a search of the hotel room. For instance, if the hotel knew Person B was staying there, the hotel did not have a policy against it, Person B had his belongings in the room and had already been in the room for a sufficient period of time, Person B may have a expectation of privacy in the room that would allow him to challenge an illegal search of the room. On the other hand, if the guest had only been in the room for a short period of time, did not have any belongings in the room and the hotel did not know the guest was in the room, it would be more difficult for that person to argue that he has standing to challenge an illegal search of the room. In that case, the police search could be highly illegal and the police could find a lot of drugs or other evidence and that person may not be able to challenge that search.