Can Police Search Hotel Room Without a Warrant in New York ?
In People v. Mitchell, 39 N.Y.2d 173, 347 N.E.2d 607, 383 N.Y.S.2d 246 (N.Y. 1976), a hotel maid disappeared shortly after she reported to work at 9:00 a.m.
Residents of the hotel began to look for her, and they were soon joined by two police patrolmen. Id.
The maid's street clothes and her partially eaten lunch were found on the sixth floor of the hotel, but a check of vacant rooms and inquiries to the other residents were unavailing. Id.
At 1:15 p.m., four hours after the maid had last been seen, a homicide detective arrived at the hotel to assist in the search. Id.
After a thorough search of the basement, roof, alleyways, and air ducts, a room-by-room search of the hotel was commenced. Id.
The detective entered the defendant's room with a passkey provided by management and found the maid's dead body in a closet. Id. at 608-09.
The New York Court of Appeals held that the search of the defendant's hotel room had been reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because it was triggered by an emergency situation. Id. at 609.
The court ruled that the police had reasonable grounds to believe that there was an emergency: the maid had not been seen for hours, she had not responded when summoned, it was highly probable that she was somewhere in the hotel, and the circumstances "led to the conclusion that some grave misfortune of an indeterminable nature had befallen her." Id. at 609-10.
The court noted the absence of any obvious signs, such as screams or the odor of a decaying corpse, suggesting that the missing maid might be in the defendant's room. Id. at 610.
But the court also observed that an exhaustive search of the public areas of the hotel had revealed nothing, raising the possibility that the maid was in one of the private rooms, and that the defendant's room was on the floor where the maid had last been seen and where her partially eaten lunch was found. Id.
The court concluded that a search of the defendant's room "was imperative in light of these facts." Id. at 611.