Police Officers Can't Search Hotel Records Whenever They Want

The U.S. Supreme Court held that hotel operators are entitled to some kind of independent review before opening their registries.

In Los Angeles v. Patel, decided June 22, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that officers can't simply search hotel records on demand. (576 U.S. ___ (2015).)

At issue was a Los Angelese Municipal Code provision that forced hotel operators to let officers search their records without justification—at the peril of misdemeanor charges. The records in question related to guests; they documented information like names and addresses, arrival and scheduled departure dates, and room numbers.

The Court held that hotel operators are entiteld to have a "neutral decisionmaker" evaluate a demand for record inspection. In other words, officers can't simply waltz into the lobby, demand the records, and arrest a hotel owner who refuses to provide them.

But officers remain free to issue their own administrative subpoenas demanding record inspection. Most hotel operators, the Court guessed, will simply cooperate with such demands. But those who don't want to must be allowed to challenge them in court. Of course, officers also have the option of seeking warrants allowing them to search records before even approaching hotel operators.

For much more on the case and its privacy implications, see Police Officers Can’t Search Hotel Records on Demand, but What Does That Mean?