Your Rights and the Ability of Police to Search Hotel Rooms and Vehicles | State v. Shaw and Bolden

Were the police allowed to search my hotel room without me there?? 

Are the police allowed to threaten me with ‘bringing the dog’ to sniff my car?

If I am threatened about the ‘bringing the dog’, did i give good consent? 

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
State v. Shaw and Bolden

This case addresses of several significant issues concerning the ability of the police to search a motel room as well as the manner in which the police obtain consent to search a motor vehicle from the driver/owners. We will provide several blogs to discuss the the facts and law outlined in this decision.

The uncontested facts are outlined below:

The defendants were arrested when the driver of the vehicle complained to an employee of a motel where she was staying that she had been bitten by bedbugs. The motel owner entered the drivers unoccupied motel room to inspect for the bed bugs and found drugs in the bed sheets. The motel owner call the police and at 2:30 PM allowed them into the unoccupied room. The police made no attempt to obtain a warrant prior to entering the room. The officer also testified he had no familiarity with his department’s ability to obtain a telephonic search warrant. At this juncture of the facts it is important to note that the motel owner did not complain of any type of flooding or other health emergency in the locked motel room prior to allowing the police to enter.

Once the police were in the motel room they found plastic bags containing drug like substances as well as other drug paraphernalia. The officer contacted headquarters, collected the drugs, learned who the registered lessee of the motel unit was and learned there was a warrant for their arrest, and found out what vehicle was registered in their name with the motel front desk.

The officer then parked in the motel parking lot and waited for that vehicle to return, which it did 20 minutes later. The officer observed the driver/motel rental registrant  as well as a front seat passenger and two rear seat passengers. The officer exited his vehicle, unholstered his duty weapon, and ordered the passengers back into the vehicle. He then called for backup after approaching the vehicle driver and requested her license registration and rental agreement for the vehicle.

Defendant Shaw was merely one of the rear passengers with no outstanding warrants for his arrest. Nevertheless, the officer detained him and secured him in the rear of one of the police vehicles. Defendant Bolden and was also detained even though he provided a proper identification and did not have any outstanding warrants for his arrest.

Once all of the occupants were detained the police then ask the registered renter of the vehicle, Ms. Hanson, if they could search the vehicle, and if not a canine would be brought to the scene for a sniff of the vehicle. When the trial court asked why was a dog being called to the scene the court found…..,” although the officer did not explain the reason for the canine sniff”,  another officer testified, “that was being done because of the drugs that were found in the motel room and the passengers in the vehicle having an outstanding arrest warrants and one of the other passengers lying about their identity. The police were concerned about the trafficing of narcotics.”

The officers then testified that no one spoke with Shaw and Bolden secured in the separate police vehicles prior to the canine arriving , which took approximately 30 minutes. The court found that the canine was requested at 4 PM, arrive 20 minutes later, and left the scene at 5:20 PM. In other words, the police detained the vehicle’s occupants for at least 80 minutes. An unidentified officer also was quoted as saying, during that waiting period defendant Shaw admitted there was marijuana on the floor of the rear passenger seat. Then,  based on that alleged admission which was told to the driver Hanson, she gave consent to the officers to search the vehicle. At 4:40 PM Hanson was provided the consent form but did not initial the one line on the form that read “I have given permission voluntarily of my own free will, without coercion fear or threat ” but did initial the balance of the lines on the form.

Thereafter, one of the officers searched the vehicle and found a brown bag containing marijuana in the rear passenger seat, imitation marijuana in a sandwich bag in the center console cupholder.  There was also a large green fabric tote standing up on the middle seats. The bag was open and inside same were two black plastic bag containing large amounts of heroin.

Please read the blogs to follow outlining the legal analysis the court went through to:

  1. throw out the evidence found during the search of the motel room,
  2. the legal analysis of the consent obtained to search the auto, and
  3. the effect of the alleged admission by Shaw about the drugs on the floor of the rear passenger compartment.

Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.
609-471-1959. Cell
856-354-0050 Office

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