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Stoner v. California


    Citation. Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 84 S. Ct. 889, 11 L. Ed. 2d 856, 1964 U.S. LEXIS 1579 (U.S. Mar. 23, 1964)

    Brief Fact Summary. An individual was convicted of armed robbery after a jury trial. Various items were taken from his hotel room without a search or arrest warrant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. “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.”


    Facts. The Petitioner, Stoner (the “Petitioner”), was convicted of armed robbery. Two individuals robbed a supermarket. One was described by eyewitnesses as carrying a gun, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a gray jacket. Shortly after the robbery, the Petitioner’s check book was found in an adjacent parking lot and turned over to the police. Two of the checks in the book were made out to a hotel in the area. The police learned the Petitioner had a criminal record and obtained a picture of him. They showed the Petitioner’s picture to two eyewitness to the robbery, and they said the photograph resembled the Petitioner. Pursuant to that information, the police went to the hotel without a search or arrest warrant. They obtained the consent of the hotel clerk to conduct a search of the Petitioner’s room. The police entered the Petitioner’s room and made a thorough search of its contents. In the room, the police found a pair of horn rimmed glasses, a .45-calibur automatic pistol w
    ith a clip, and several cartridges. The Petitioner was arrested two days later in Las Vegas and the items found in the hotel room were used against him during the trial.
    The state District Court affirmed the Petitioner’s conviction and the Supreme Court of California refused to review the decision. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiori.

    Issue. “[W]hether evidence was admitted [during the Petitioner’s trial] which had been obtained by an unlawful search and seizure.”

    Held. The majority observed “[o]ur decisions make clear that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment are not to be eroded by strained applications of the law of agency or by unrealistic doctrines of ‘apparent authority.’ ”
    “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.”
    “It is true, as was said in [United States v. Jeffers], that when a person engages a hotel room he undoubtedly gives ‘implied or express permission’ to ‘such persons as maids, janitors or repairmen’ to enter his room ‘in the performance of their duties.’ But the conduct of the night clerk and the police in the present case was of an entirely different order. In a closely analogous situation the Court has held that a search by police officers of a house occupied by a tenant invaded the tenant’s constitutional right, even though the search was authorized by the owner of the house, who presumably had not only apparent but actual authority to enter the house for some purposes, such as to ‘view waste.’ The Court pointed out that the officers’ purpose in entering was not to view waste but to search for distilling equipment, and concluded that to uphold such a search without a warrant would leave tenants’ homes secure only in the discretion of their landlords.”

    Discussion. This case is a prime example of how an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights are that individual’s rights to waive or consent to.

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