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Supreme Court Finds 4th Amendment Applies to Hotel Registries

June 25, 2015 | Written by Dan Margolis

According to the law, people’s right to privacy from government intrusion goes up or down, depending on where they are. Our privacy rights tend to be much higher at home than when on a Cleveland street, where police have more ability to stop and search us without obtaining a warrant first.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy remains fairly strong when we are guests at a hotel, a place that is both a residence and a place of business. In a 5-4 decision, Politico reports, the Court held that a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to show police a list of their registered guests whenever officers demand allowed unreasonable searches and seizures.

In the majority decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that allowing police to monitor hotel registries without the justification required by a warrant subjects guests to potential harassment. She foresaw the possibility of officers searching a hotel several times a day for seeks without finding any evidence. Under the ordinance, a hotel owner who refuses access to the registry could be arrested, which Sotomayor also cited as reason to strike down the ordinance.

Sotomayor said that requiring a warrant or subpoena before granting access to hotel registries would not be a major delay or inconvenience to police. She acknowledged that officers could still demand to see the registry in cases of “exigent circumstances” already granted by the courts.

The narrative of the public’s protections against law enforcement overreach continues to be written, both in the nation’s legislatures and courts.

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