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Fourth Amendment and Motel Rooms

Most people are generally aware of the Constitutional rights they have against unreasonable search and seizures in their own homes, (read about Seach Warrants) but many people are not aware of their Fourth Amendment protections in Hotel or Motel rooms, specifically concerning drug cases. So what rights to privacy do individuals have in hotel rooms as opposed to their own homes? The general rule in Pennsylvania is that an overnight guest has an expectation of privacy in a hotel room that he is staying in. The Pennsylvania Superior Court held "[a] hotel room can clearly be the object of Fourth Amendment protection as much as a home or an office."

So if individuals staying in hotel rooms have as much of a Fourth Amendment protection that they would have if they were staying in their home, warrantless searches or seizures of a hotel room are presumptively unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, § 8, subject to a few specifically established exceptions such as the "plain view" exception. To put it more simply, if you are an overnight guest in a hotel room, the police cannot enter unless the renter of the hotel room consents, the police have a search warrant or the police see illegal drugs a gun or some other illegal contraband in plain view.

The plain view exception to the warrant requirement read about plain view exception holds that unless there is incontrovertible testimony that an incriminating object is on premises belonging to a criminal suspect and the police can see the object in plain view. An example would be if an officer knocks on a door to a hotel room and once the door is opened sees a pound of marijuana on the floor of the hotel room. However, if the officer can only see the marijuana by entering the hotel room without consent or a warrant then the plain view exception to a search warrant would not apply.

Put simply "under the Fourth Amendment, an officer may not seize contraband in plain view unless a prior justification provided the officer a lawful 'right of access to the item."

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