The importance of room 56

Washington courts

Four years ago, in the case Washington v. Timothy Jorden, the Washington Supreme Court threw out a conviction because it happened after a search that was part of a broad dragnet (and had no warrant). The facts:

“In March 2003 a Pierce County deputy sheriff stopped by the Golden Lion Motel at Lakewood, whose guests over several years had a history of criminal activity. The officer was welcome, though, and his visit was not unusual, because the motel participated in a cooperative anti-crime program, part of which allowed officers to look over the guest register. The officer saw a familiar name, and in his car’s computer confirmed the hunch: Timothy Jorden, listed as a guest, was wanted on two outstanding arrest warrants. The officer called for and got backup, then knocked on the door. A woman answered; she was pulled outside. The officers entered and found Jorden in bed, and a stash of crack cocaine visible nearby. Jorden was arrested.”

The Court threw out the conviction as the result of a search and seizure beyond specific reason, the issue being “whether a random and suspicionless search of a guest registry reveals intimate details of one’s life. We first consider that here there is more information at stake than simply a guest’s registration information: an individual’s very presence in a motel or hotel may in itself be a sensitive piece of information. There are a variety of lawful reasons why an individual may not wish to reveal his or her presence at a motel.”

This site approved of the decision and the logic, although a Court critic might argue that basically bars cops from making use of motel registries. But not so. Today we have the decision In Restraint of Glenn Gary Nichols, which throws some shading on the idea.

Here’s the background of the new case. A Seattle police informant went to the home of a person in the southern part of the city to score some cocaine (with $50 of Seattle drug buy money). The seller had none but was about to get some, at a nearby motel, where her supplier was. The two of then went to the motel, where the intermediary knocked and was admitted to room 56. When she returned, cocaine was delivered to the informant. Shortly after, the informant called police with the information. Soon after that, police came to the motel and asked the desk clerk who was in room 56. The information was provided – Nichols was registered there – and when police saw him drive up to the door, they determined his identity, then arrested him (initially for a driving-related offense, later on drugs).

Naturally, the Jorden decision came up, and was central, as appeals in the case arose. Here is what the Supreme Court said about it in the new case:

“A fair reading of our opinion in Jorden is that motel guest registries are ‘private affairs’ only to a limited extent. Indeed, in Jorden we recognized that in prior cases we have recognized that hotel or motel guest registries were not historically considered private when police officers had an individualized and particularized suspicion regarding a guest. Such a tiered understanding of what is a private affair under article I, section 7 of our state constitution is not without precedent. In a number of cases we have expressed displeasure at random and suspicionless searches, “fishing expeditions,” while at the same time recognizing that searches of the same person or property with individualized suspicion can pass constitutional muster. In that regard, see, e.g., City of Seattle v. Mesiani (1988), in which this court held that a program involving “random” road block sobriety checkpoints violated article I, section 7 because it lacked particularized and individualized suspicion, and York v. Wahkiakum School District No. 200 (2008), in which we struck down a school district’s program of urinalysis drug testing of student athletes where the testing was done without any individualized suspicion of drug use.”

In this case, in other words, they had a specific drug buy, and they had room 56. A lot different from rousting random motel guests.

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