Today at SCOTUS: Warrantless Police Inspections of Hotel Guest Registries


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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument today in the case of Los Angeles v. Patel. At issue is whether the Fourth Amendment is violated by a city law which requires that hotel guest registries "shall be made available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for Inspection" without need of a warrant. It is a crime for hotel owners to refuse to comply with such police demands.

In its argument today, the city of Los Angeles will urge the Supreme Court to overturn a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of  Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which held that hotels do have an expectation of privacy in their guest registries under the Fourth Amendment. According to city officials, allowing that ruling to stand would jeopardize the ability of the police to "investigate crimes such as prostitution and gambling, capture dangerous fugitives and even authorize federal law enforcement to examine these registers, an authorization which can be vital in the immediate aftermath of a homeland terrorist attack."

Naranjibha Patel, the hotel owner who has led the charge against the registry law, disputes that glowing assessment of its purported benefits. "Because the City fails to show any special need for endowing individual police officers with this extraordinary power," Patel's main brief argues, "the Court cannot accept [the city's] interpretation of the Fourth Amendment without simultaneously encouraging governments throughout the country to adopt similar laws providing police with unfettered access to all manner of business records."

A decision in Los Angeles v. Patel is expected by June.