The Constitution establishes privacy rights, and one of the more sacred privacy rights protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures when it comes to their property. For instance, in most cases, the police are not allowed to go into a person’s residence without a valid search warrant or consent from the person who lives at the residence. The rules are somewhat different when it comes to hotel rooms. The police cannot just walk into a hotel room that is being rented by a hotel customer. Likewise, the police cannot merely get consent from the hotel owner or employee to go into a hotel room that is being rented by a hotel customer. The police must either have a valid search warrant or get permission to enter and search a hotel room from an authorized person who rented or is staying in the room.
In a recent drug case near Jacksonville, Florida, hotel management received an anonymous tip that the occupants of one of the hotel rooms had cocaine in the room. The hotel manager called the police. The police went to the hotel, got the room number and the name of the suspect who rented the room and then proceeded to the room. The police officers knocked on the door, and an individual answered. The police officers asked the individual if they could come in to search the room, and he agreed. Inside the room, the police found cocaine and drug paraphernalia. The defendant, who was the one who actually rented the room but did not answer the door, was arrested for possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the cocaine found in the room based on the argument that the police did not have a legal basis to enter the room. The court agreed. The police cannot enter a hotel room without a search warrant or permission from an authorized person or a person with apparent authority to give the consent. Some guy staying in the room with the person who rented the room is not someone with authority to give the police consent to enter and search the room for drugs. The state tried to argue that the person who answered the door had apparent authority to give consent. The police can rely on someone who appears to live in a residence or to be staying in a hotel room to give authority to enter and search. However, in this case, the police knew the name of the person who rented the room, so it was as simple as the police asking the person who answered the door whether he was the person whose name was on the room registration. Because they didn’t do that basic investigation, they could not rely on the guy’s apparent authority to give consent. Since the police did not have legal justification to enter the room, the cocaine they found inside was suppressed.