“The Court of Appeals erred in holding that police could not lawfully enter a hotel room to help a hotel manager evict a guest engaged in criminal activity.”
Tilghman and his companions rented a hotel room. Hotel managers and employees smelled marijuana coming from their room and, based on hotel policy, decided to evict them for committing a crime. A manager knocked on the door but received no answer. Sometime later, a different manager enlisted the help of police to evict the men from the room. Alongside the manager, the officers knocked several times on the door. When the officer knocked a third time and said “San Marcos Police,” he heard whispering inside. The manager unlocked the door and the officers went in. As they explained to Tilghman and the others that management wanted them out, they noticed marijuana and methamphetamine in plain view. Tilghman was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the drugs based on the officers’ warrantless entry into the room. The trial court found that the officers had a right to enter the room at the invitation of the hotel to facilitate the eviction and overruled the motion. Tilghman pleaded guilty and appealed the suppression ruling.
A majority of the court of appeals reversed. It held that the term of occupancy had not yet expired when police entered the room. It held the State failed to prove that hotel policy allowed the hotel to evict guests without prior notice or that Tilghman was aware of this policy. The majority explained that eviction without prior notice would allow the unfettered discretion of a hotel employee to erode a hotel guest’s reasonable expectation of privacy, contrary to Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483 (1964). It also noted that requiring prior notice to the guest would provide courts with evidence that occupants had lost a reasonable expectation of privacy before entry was made. The dissent argued that officers were then effectuating the eviction and that Texas law required no prior notice.
The State argues that the majority has imposed new requirements on hoteliers to create eviction policies, inform residents about them, and provide notice prior to eviction. It contends it is for the legislature (not courts) to impose such requirements, and that the majority’s standard creates confusion and forces hoteliers and law enforcement to either tolerate the situation until a warrant can be obtained or allow civilian managers to enter potentially dangerous situations unaided by police. The State also argues that the majority’s decision expands Stoner from police-initiated hotel room searches to hotel-initiated evictions and conflicts with other state and federal cases recognizing that a lawful eviction terminates a hotel occupant’s expectation of privacy.