Thursday, July 16, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Allowing Police to Search Hotel Registries

On June 22, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in City of Los Angeles v. Patel that police searches can no longer be conducted on hotel and motel registries without a warrant absent consent or exigent circumstances. The case considered the constitutionality of Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.49. The Code stated all hotel and motel operators shall make their records available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection at any time. If operators failed to turn over these records, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. A group of motel operators and lodging associations challenged the law, asserting such searches were unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately held searches without warrants of hotel and motel registries are unconstitutional absent consent or exigent circumstances. The Court stated the subject of a hotel registry search must be afforded the opportunity to obtain pre-compliance review before a neutral decision maker.

The Supreme Court outlined several ways an officer may search hotel registries absent a special need or consent from the operator. First, an officer could serve the hotel operator with an administrative subpoena, allowing the hotel operator an opportunity to challenge the subpoena in front of a judge before suffering any penalties for refusing to comply. An officer also could apply for a warrant. Additionally, if officers fear the destruction of the records while awaiting an available judge, they are permitted to guard the registry until a hearing could occur.