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L.A. Hotel Registries Require Legal Documents from Police
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Summary: The U.S Supreme Court found that the Fourth Amendment protects hotels and motels from releasing their registries to police without a legal subpoena or warrant.

A Los Angeles law that allowed searches of hotel registries without a warrant was rejected Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law violated the rights of hotels to challenge the searches in an adequate amount of time under the Fourth Amendment.


The decision was a five to four vote to uphold the Ninth Circuits ruling in December of 2013. That ruling overturned an earlier panel’s decision to uphold the local law authorizing police to make inspections of hotel registries without subpoenas or warrants. The law was first deemed constitutional but later found unconstitutional by the court because it did not give the hotels the ability to review the searches in a timely manner without being immediately penalized. Hotels were subjected to criminal penalties if they did not hand over the registries.

A recent Massachusetts ruling found that hotels have no reasonable right to privacy with their hotel registries. Los Angeles City argued that the Ninth Circuits findings were severely different than Sixth Circuits decision, citing the Massachusetts ruling. The city is concerned since the Supreme Court’s ruling has also affected 70 other similar laws around the country where sensitive data is required to be turned over to the police for national safety reasons.

The motel owners that had challenged the law believe the city is attempting to split the circuit’s courts for their advantage. They mentioned in their brief against the city’s petition that a small circuit split exists on whether a facial challenge is appropriate and if the hotels have the expectation of privacy. This prompted the justices to take the case and clearly define how and when police need to require court involvement when attaining data from technology companies, hotels, and others.

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Michael R Dreeben

Michael R Dreeben

The city argued that the law helped hotels and motels take down information from guests renting rooms to deter criminals from using rooms. The government representation, Deputy Solicitor General Michael R Dreeben argued that the law was minimally intrusive since it didn’t require entry into nonpublic spaces or residential places and only allowed police to enter the lobby of a motel to hold a quick inspection of the registry.

Thomas Goldstein

Thomas Goldstein

The hotel’s attorney, Thomas C Goldstein of Goldstein & Russell PC, affirmed that the hotels were only asking that law enforcement issue a one-page subpoena that could be challenged with a judge if necessary.

The city was represented by E. Joshua Rosenkranz of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

E. Joshua Rosenkranz

E. Joshua Rosenkranz



Dreeben photo:

Goldstein photo:

Rosenkranz photo:


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