Stoner v. California (376 U.S. 483)
Decided Mar. 23, 1964


 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Criminal Procedure, Search and Seizure, 4th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is a hotel guest entitled to the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Police discovered that an armed robbery suspect was staying in a hotel and, without a warrant, searched the suspect's room in his absence by obtaining access from a hotel clerk. They found evidence linking the suspect to the crime. The suspect was arrested two days later in another state and following a jury trial in which the articles were used as evidence, the suspect was convicted of armed robbery in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California.


At the trial several articles which had been found by police officers in a search of the petitioner's hotel room during his absence were admitted into evidence over his objection. A District Court of Appeal of California affirmed the conviction, and the Supreme Court of California denied further review. The US Supreme Court granted certiorari, limiting review "to the question of whether evidence was admitted which had been obtained by an unlawful search and seizure."
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
William H. Dempsey, Jr., by appointment of the Court, argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. A. L. Wirin, Fred Okrand and Paul Cooksey filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, as amicus curiae, urging reversal.

Arlo E. Smith, Chief Assistant Attorney General of California, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Stanley Mosk, Attorney General of California, and Albert W. Harris, Jr. and Michael J. Phelan, Deputy Attorneys General.

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[T]he argument is made that the search of the hotel room, although conducted without the petitioner's consent, was lawful because it was conducted with the consent of the hotel clerk. We find this argument unpersuasive.


Even if it be assumed that a state law which gave a hotel proprietor blanket authority to authorize the police to search the rooms of the hotel's guests could survive constitutional challenge, there is no intimation in the California cases cited by the respondent that California has any such law. [...]


It is important to bear in mind that it was the petitioner's constitutional right which was at stake here, and not the night clerk's nor the hotel's. It was a right, therefore, which only the petitioner could waive by word or deed, either directly or through an agent. It is true that the night clerk clearly and unambiguously consented to the search. But there is nothing in the record to indicate that the police had any basis whatsoever to believe that the night clerk had been authorized by the petitioner to permit the police to search the petitioner's room. [...]


No less than a tenant of a house, or the occupant of a room in a boarding house, a guest in a hotel room is entitled to constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. That protection would disappear if it were left to depend upon the unfettered discretion of an employee of the hotel. It follows that this search without a warrant was unlawful. Since evidence obtained through the search was admitted at the trial, the judgment must be reversed."


Held:

1.  A search without a warrant can be justified as incident to arrest only if substantially contemporaneous and confined to the immediate vicinity of arrest.

2.  A hotel guest is entitled to the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The hotel clerk had no authority to permit the room search and the police had no basis to believe that petitioner had authorized the clerk to permit the search

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con
(Unanimous Decision for Petitioner/Appellant)

  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Clark, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus, urged reversal of the judgment of a District Court of Appeal of California; the Supreme Court reversed in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.