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State v. Leonard

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

February 4, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
John Thomas Leonard, Appellant.

          Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-15-22826

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jonathan P. Schmidt, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Emily B. Hoffman, Special Assistant Public Defender, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         A hotel guest has no reasonable expectation of privacy in identifying information that the guest voluntarily reveals to a hotel operator for purposes of renting a hotel room. When police obtain that identifying information by searching hotel-registration records under Minn. Stat. § 327.12 (2018), there is no violation of the hotel guest's Fourth Amendment rights.

          OPINION

          RODENBERG, Judge.

         Appellant John Thomas Leonard challenges his check-forgery convictions based on evidence seized from his hotel room after police obtained his identifying information from hotel-registration records. Appellant argues that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress because the evidence against him is the fruit of an unlawful search of hotel-registration records. We affirm.

         FACTS

         On August 14, 2015, police officers requested a guest list from a Bloomington hotel's registration records. A clerk at the hotel's front desk provided the list and told the officers that appellant had recently checked into a room, provided a Pennsylvania identification card, and paid cash to use the room for six hours. Because the brief cash rental by an out-of-state guest aroused the officers' suspicions, they checked appellant's criminal history. They discovered that appellant had numerous arrests for drugs, firearms, and fraud.

         The officers proceeded to appellant's room, knocked on the door, and identified themselves as police. Approximately 60 seconds elapsed, during which time the officers heard a toilet flush and papers shuffling. Then appellant answered the door and permitted the officers to enter, but immediately after allowing the officers into the room, he picked up a laptop, a cell phone, and a file folder that appeared to contain several checks. Appellant declined the officers' request to inspect those items. In the room, the officers observed a large amount of cash, two printers, and several envelopes. The officers then froze the scene and obtained a search warrant. In searching the room pursuant to the warrant, officers recovered several checks purporting to be paychecks from various hotels to "Spencer Alan Hill" at various addresses. Six of the checks indicated the same account number, but purported to be from different banks. The amounts for which the checks were payable totaled $2, 521.22. Officers also recovered $5, 338 in cash, and check-printing paper that had been loaded into a printer.

         Appellant was charged with check forgery and offering a forged check. He moved to suppress the evidence seized from his hotel room. He argued that the warrantless search of the hotel's registration records was unjustified because the statutes that require hotel operators, under threat of criminal sanction, to maintain such records and make them "open to the inspection of all law enforcement," Minn. Stat. §§ 327.10, .12, .13 (2018), are unconstitutional under City of Los Angeles v. Patel, 135 S.Ct. 2443 (2015). Appellant asserted that the identifying information gleaned from the records so obtained led directly to the seizure of the evidence against him.

         The district court denied appellant's suppression motion, reasoning that appellant lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information he gave to the hotel for its registration records. Appellant thereafter waived a jury trial and submitted the case to the district court for resolution on stipulated evidence under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, ...


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