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Supreme Court Rejects Routine Hotel Registries Check

?The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles ordinance Monday that allowed police to routinely inspect hotel guest records on demand without a warrant. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it penalizes?�hotel owners if they do�not comply.

The ruling stems from achallenge brought by hotel operators against Los Angelesin 2003 against its municipal code, which compelled �every operator of a hotel to keep a record� containing specific information on guests, including name and address; number of people in the guest�s party; the make, model, and license plate number of the guest�s vehicle parked on hotel property; the guest�s date and time of arrival and scheduled departure date; the room number assigned to the guest; the rate charged and amount collected for the room; and the method of payment.

Additionally, the ordinance required guests without reservations, those who paid for rooms with cash, and guests who rented a room for less than 12 hours to present photo identification at check-in. Hotel operators were then required to record the number and expiration date of the ID.

Operators had to keep this information for 90 days and make it �available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for inspection� on demand, according to court documents. Operators who failed to make their guest records available for inspection could be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Hotel operators challenged the ordinance on Fourth Amendment grounds, saying inspections under the provision were unreasonable because operators were subjected to punishment unless they complied with them.

In an opinion by Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayorjoined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, the Court sided with the operators. It�found that the LA ordinance is �facially unconstitutional because it penalizes [operators] for declining to turn over their records without affording them any opportunity for precompliance review.�

�Absent an opportunity for precompliance review, the ordinance creates an intolerable risk that searches authorized by it will exceed statutory limits, or be used as a pretext to harass hotel operators and their guests,� Sotomayor wrote. �Even if a hotel has been searched 10 times a day, every day, for three months, without any violation being found, the operator can only refuse to comply with an officer�s demand to turn over the registry at his or her own peril.�

Instead, the Court held that hotel operators must have an opportunity to have a neutral decisionmaker review an officer�s demand to search the registry before facing penalties for failing to comply. �Actual review need only occur in those rare instances where a hotel operator objects to turning over the registry,� Sotomayor explained.�

For instance, Sotomayor wrote that hotel operators would accept searches authorized by the ordinance as constitutional if they were performed pursuant to an administrative subpoena. The subpoena can be issued by individuals seeking the record�in this case officers in the field�without probable cause.�

This method would allow hotel operators that believe an attempted search is motivated by illicit purposes to �quash the subpoena before any search takes place,� Sotomayor explained. �A neutral decision?maker, including an administrative law judge, would then review the subpoenaed party�s objections before deciding whether the subpoena is enforceable.�

This type of procedure is ubiquitous, and its prevalence �confirms what common sense alone would otherwise lead us to conclude: In most contexts, business owners can be afforded at least an opportunity to contest an administrative search�s propriety without unduly compromising the government�s ability to achieve its regulatory aims,� Sotomayor wrote.