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Drug Dealer’s Hotel Room Was In Bounds for Search

(CN) - A drug dealer who abandoned a large amount of cocaine and a scale in his hotel room cannot overturn a 40-month prison sentence, just because he left a "Do Not Disturb" sign on his room after checkout time, the 6th Circuit ruled.

Denois Lanier was arrested by Michigan State Troopers in the Benton Harbor Comfort Suites, as he was sliding his keycard into his door to re-enter his room after an 11 a.m. checkout time. A hotel housekeeper found Ziploc baggies containing what looked like crack cocaine, powder cocaine and a scale in the trash can of the room.

A federal grand jury later charged Lanier with distributing the two forms of the drug, and although Lanier pleaded guilty to the distribution charge, he filed a motion to suppress the search and seizure, on Fourth Amendment and privacy grounds.

After the District Court, however, upheld the search and seizure due to probable cause, and so did 6th Circuit on Thursday, finding that Lanier "had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the room at the time of the search."

"There is nothing unusual about a hotel housekeeper's entering a room after the check-out time and after no one responds to a knock on the door," Judge Richard Jonker wrote for the appellate court's three-judge panel. "And once the hotel learned of the presence of drugs in the room, it had every right to grant access to the police to determine whether the room was being used for illegal purposes."

"A hotel guest has a periodic right to occupy a room, not a permanent one," Jonker wrote, adding that "other circuits see it the same way."

Although the hotel gives guests a one-hour grace period before deactivating guest electronic keycards past checkout time, the police searched Lanier's room at 11:30. Still, the time window makes no difference because Lanier was not aware of the grace period, Jonker said.

"The general rule, not the exceptions, applies to Lanier," according to the ruling. "The search occurred after the 11:00 a.m. check-out time. He did not ask the hotel to extend his stay. He did not receive permission from the hotel for a later check-out time. And the hotel had no history of acquiescing in delayed departures by Lanier.

Hotels are not bound by their grace periods, and "one eminently reasonable ground for retracting a grace period is when the hotel, after check-out time, discovers that the guest has been using the room to peddle drugs," Jonker added.

Lanier's sentence of 40 months falls below the guideline-recommended 46- to 57-month sentence, according to the ruling.

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