Can Police Search Your Hotel Room After You Have Been Asked To Leave?
The police typically need a warrant before searching your home or property. This principle extends to any other area where you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” For example, if you rent a hotel room, the police would normally need a warrant to enter and search it. Even if the hotel management consented to such a search, it would still be unconstitutional so long as you had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Court of Criminal Appeals: No “Expectation of Privacy” Once Hotel Staff Takes “Affirmative Steps” to Evict Guests
But what if you are being evicted from the hotel room? Does the reasonable expectation of privacy still apply? The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) recently examined these questions.
The case before the CCA, Tilghman v. State, involved three men who rented a room at a Marriott hotel in Hays County. A day manager walked by the room and smelled what he thought was marijuana smoke. Hotel policy barred guests from smoking of any kind and also forbade any illegal drug use.
The day manager instructed the staff to evict the tenants. When an employee knocked on the door, however, nobody answered. Several hours later, the day manager called the night manager to inform him about the situation. The night manager decided to call the police to assist with the eviction.
The police knocked on the hotel room door. When once again nobody answered, the night manager entered the room using his key. The two tenants were present. During the entry, the police heard the sound of a toilet flushing, which the officers interpreted as an attempt to get rid of illegal drugs.
The manager notified the three men of their eviction and asked them to leave immediately. As the men gathered their possessions, the officers saw marijuana and methamphetamine in “plain view.” They proceeded to arrest all three men on drug possession charges.
Two of the men subsequently moved to suppress the drugs recovered from the room, arguing they were the result of an unconstitutional search. The trial court denied the motion. An intermediate appellate court reversed in favor of the defendants, but the CCA then reversed that decision and reinstated the trial judge’s original decision to admit the evidence.
The CCA explained that once a hotel guest violates hotel policy, they lose any “expectation of privacy” in their room once the staff has taken “affirmative steps” to evict them. The Court noted that under Texas law, there was no landlord-tenant relationship between a hotel and its guests. This meant that unlike a residential landlord, a hotel did not have to provide any “advance notice of eviction” or even follow any specific legal procedures to evict a guest who breaks the rules.
Contact Pearland Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Whether or not a drug charge sticks often depends on the legality of a police search. An experienced Pearland drug crime lawyer can review the facts of your case and advise you of whether grounds exist to try and suppress any evidence against you. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.