More than 70 cities across the U.S. share a similar law that permits police officials to search hotel and motel guest registries without a court order or the proprietor’s permission. Police officials argue that registries can contain information valuable in combating prostitution, gambling, drug dealing—even terrorism.
However, Supreme Court justices recently agreed to hear a group of Los Angeles motel owners’ challenge to this law early next year. The motel owners argue that the law violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right of people to be secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” and bans unreasonable searches.
As their attorney Frank Weiser explained to reporters from L.A. Times, the ordinance grants police access to hotel and motel registries at any time. For hotel owners, this often means standing back and allowing searches in the middle of the night. These late-night searches are disruptive and detrimental to hotel businesses, many of which are locally owned and operated.
The law was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit last December. Judge J. Watford, who presided over the case, wrote that the guest records are private documents belonging to the hotel or motel. He stated that the law allows for “both a physical intrusion upon a hotel’s papers and an invasion of the hotel’s protected privacy interest in those papers.” The ordinance automatically incriminates hotel and motel owners if they decline to share their registries with law officials, Watford said. You can read more about his decision in the Dallas Morning News.
Get Legal Help If You Think Your Privacy Is Being Violated
In order to search private properties—from homes and businesses to cell phones—police officers are legally required to secure a warrant. To do so, they must first convince a judge they have probable cause to justify entry and search of these properties. Just as individuals and businesses are protected against unreasonable searches and arrests, guest registries—which often contain personal and commercially sensitive information—should be safe from arbitrary seizure.
Are law enforcement officials trying to force your business to give them access to guest registries or other private documents? Don’t give in without a fight—Frisco criminal attorney James P. Whalen can help ensure your rights are being respected.