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Police search of hotel registries constitutional, court says

July 17, 2012 | 11:59 am

A Los Angeles ordinance that requires hotel owners to keep guest registries and permit police to inspect them without a search warrant does not violate the constitutional rights of the owners, a divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against a motel owner whose guest registries have been searched by Los Angeles police without consent. Judge Richard R. Clifton, writing for the majority, said hotel guests have no legal right to expect registries will be kept private, and the owners failed to prove the searches violated their 4th Amendment protections from unreasonable searches.

“The information covered by the Los Angeles ordinance principally concerns hotel guests,” wrote Clifton, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush. “The information does not, on its face, appear confidential or ‘private’ from the perspective of the hotel operator.”

Judge Harry Pregerson, appointed by former President Jimmy Carter, dissented, contending that the search of a business without a warrant must be carefully justified. Instead of citing an established exception to the 4th Amendment, “the majority simply declares that the searches at issue are reasonable,” Pregerson said.

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— Maura Dolan

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