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Virginia criminal & drug defense – Limits on challenging hotel room searches

Virginia criminal lawyer on the limits on Fourth Amendment proction

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Behind the seemingly innocent exteriors of plenty of hotels lie illegal drug possession and illegal drug transactions. Unless the hotel is knowingly receiving payola for such activity, the hotel can be expected to seek police intervention to stop the activity.

Abdul Lateef Salahuddin learned that the hard way. Salahuddin was using a Fredericksburg hotel room rented by his acquaintance, Heid. Salahuddin v. Virginia, ___Va. App. ___ (Jan. 30, 2017).

Although the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures extends to hotel rooms, Salahuddin’s hotel room-renting acquaintance acknowledged the limits of the room’s occupants’ rights therein, in that the acquaintance signed a hotel room registration card that “’reserve[d] the right [of the hotel] to conduct random inspections of each room, regardless of whether a guest [was] present for any such inspection.'” “The card further made clear that the guest’s failure to comply with any federal, state or local laws or hotel rules could result in the hotel’s asking the guest to ‘leave the premises.’ It also indicated the ‘acknowledg[ment]’ that the occupant was ‘a transient guest of this lodging establishment . . . and registration . . . [did] not establish a permanent residence, household or dwelling unit.’ Finally, by signing the card, the registrant agreed that ‘no landlord/tenant relationship’ was created and that ‘landlord/tenant statutes’ were not applicable to the registrant’s stay.”

Read your hotel room registration cards carefully. I have never seen such language in a room registration card at a hotel where I have stayed. Salahuddin’s hotel’s room registration card seemed to be a blaring acknowledgement that the hotel knew of common illegal activity going on in it guest rooms, and that the hotel management was going to be snooping in the rooms when guests were away.

The day after Salahuddin’s acquintance, Heid, rented out the room for Salahuddin, the hotel manager Fowler “while observing activity on the hotel’s video surveillance equipment… noticed that six or seven people entered and almost immediately left Room 404, the room rented by Heid, in a thirty-minute period. Fowler had not seen Heid since he registered the previous day. She also did not recognize any of the people coming and going from Room 404 as registered guests, which ‘made [her] . . . suspicious.'”

Armed with such suspicion, Fowler called the police, had the police join her in her inspection of Salahuddin’s hotel room, found illegal drugs, showed police the drugs, opened a closed drawer holding more illegal drugs, and the police obtained a search warrant based on the drug evidence that hotel manager Fowler found.

Despite Salahuddin’s appellate claim of Fourth Amendment-violative foul play in the police search of his hotel room after obtaining a search warrant, Salahuddin concluded that:

“Based on the appellant’s loss of his expectation of privacy in the room, we need not consider whether the hotel manager was acting as an agent of the government when she took the officers to the hotel room, opened the drawer, and discovered additional drugs and paraphernalia inside. Further, we conclude that the information used in the affidavit and warrant application was obtained lawfully. We reach this conclusion because we hold that the officers’ pre-warrant entries of the room were reasonable, based on a reversion of control over the room to hotel staff and the appellant’s concomitant loss of his objective expectation of privacy in the room and anything visible in plain view. Accordingly, the ultimate seizure of the various items in the room pursuant to the warrant was lawful, and the trial court’s denial of the appellant’s motion to suppress was not error.”

Under Salahuddin, Salahuddin lost any Fourth Amendment protection and Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in his hotel room once the hotel manager found illegal drugs therein.

Will Salahuddin lead drug dealers to alter their reliance on hotels for drug deals, seeing that their Fourth Amendment rights in hotel rooms can be deemed lost upon the hotel’s discovery of illegal drugs therein? Probably not. Instead, if caught, their lawyers, instead, will be left to argue the nuances of Salahuddin and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.