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04/26/83 United States of America v. Judah Robert Lyons

April 26, 1983





Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.


Edwards and Scalia, Circuit Judges, and Van Dusen,* Senior Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Edwards.


After a trial before the District Court, the appellant was convicted of distribution of and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) (1976), and of carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2) (Supp. V 1981). He contests his convictions on a variety of grounds. Most of his contentions are meritless. *fn1 We conclude, however, that the warrantless, post-arrest search of the appellant's hotel room, in the course of which the police discovered a pistol, violated the Fourth Amendment. Admission into evidence of the fruit of that search was therefore improper and the appellant's conviction on the firearms count must be reversed. Because no evidence relevant to the narcotics count was obtained through the illegal search, the appellant's conviction under section 841(a)(1) is sustained. I. BACKGROUND

The pertinent facts may be stated briefly. In March 1982, Detectives Michael Bland and John Centrella were engaged in an undercover investigation of narcotics trafficking in the District of Columbia. With the aid of an informant, they arranged to buy approximately two kilograms of cocaine from the appellant, Judah R. Lyons, who then resided in Colorado. In anticipation of the transaction, Bland and Centrella arranged to rent two rooms in the Georgetown Mews Hotel. Lyons was to stay in Room 209 during his sojourn in town; the police were to occupy Room 214, from where they could conduct visual surveillance of activities in Room 209 and monitor conversations therein, transmitted by a device worn by Centrella.

In the afternoon of March 23, 1982, Lyons arrived in Washington on a flight from Colorado. Soon after his arrival, a key to the room that had been rented on his behalf was given him by a third party (whose identity remains secret); Lyons may have been aware that his benefactor retained a duplicate key. One Timothy Eyerman gave Lyons a ride to the hotel, where Lyons deposited his personal belongings. During the remainder of the afternoon and the morning of the following day, Lyons traveled about the city, dining with Eyerman and later making contact with two accomplices. He spent the night in the room that had been rented for him.

At midday on March 24, Centrella met with Lyons in the lobby of the hotel and the two agreed to "do the deal." They retired to Lyons' room, where, after some preliminary negotiation, Lyons gave Centrella a sample of the cocaine. Centrella then briefly left the room, returning with Bland (posing as a "chemist") and the purchase money. The sale was soon consummated. Immediately afterward, in response to a prearranged signal from Centrella, Detective Dwight Rawls and Sergeant Alfred Boyd entered the room and arrested and handcuffed Lyons. *fn2

After his arrest, Lyons briefly "collapsed." He was revived and immobilized, seated on a chair, at a spot "somewhere very close to the door [of the room], either just inside or just outside." Transcript ("Tr.") 114-15. Sergeant Rawls then systematically searched the room, moving "clockwise" around the outside, collecting all of Lyons' belongings. In an open closet in the wall adjacent to the wall in which the entrance was located, Rawls found an overcoat that Lyons had been seen wearing or carrying earlier that day. Rawls noticed that one side of the coat was heavy; reaching into the pocket, he discovered a loaded revolver. After recovering these items, Rawls continued around the room and came across a suitcase lying open at the foot of the bed. Inside the suitcase, apparently in plain view, were a shoulder holster, two "speed loaders" (devices for rapidly reloading a revolver), a quantity of ammunition, and various financial records. These materials were added to Rawls' cache.

The police had not obtained a warrant for the search. They did not ask Lyons what he wished done with his belongings, and Lyons did not voice any objection to the collection of his things. It also appears that the police had no intention of giving the coat to Lyons to wear on the way to the station. *fn3 Rawls later admitted that, at the time of the search, he did not fear for his personal safety. Indeed, he insisted that he was not looking for weapons or contraband. Rather, he claimed that his purpose was to collect all of Lyons' property, so that the police might vacate the premises. He argued that the procedure was mandated by police regulations designed to protect the city from possible civil liability resulting from loss or theft of an arrestee's goods. Tr. 83.

Prior to trial, Lyons moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the search. *fn4 After a hearing, the District Court denied the motion. The court rejected the Government's argument that Lyons had only a diminished privacy interest in the room *fn5 but ruled nevertheless "that the police were within their rights when they took the items there." Tr. 166-67. Lyons challenges that judgment. II. LEGITIMATE EXPECTATIONS OF PRIVACY UNDER THE FOURTH AMENDMENT

A. Introduction

The Fourth Amendment "protects people from unreasonable government intrusions into their legitimate expectations of privacy." United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 7, 53 L. Ed. 2d 538, 97 S. Ct. 2476 (1977). We begin our analysis, therefore, by determining Lyons' "legitimate expectations" regarding the sanctity of his room and, more specifically, of his closet.

Three principles guide our inquiry. First, "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576, 88 S. Ct. 507 (1967). Thus, the question we must answer is not whether the room and closet were somehow "private spaces" in the abstract, but whether Lyons had a reasonable expectation of privacy therein. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 139-43, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387, 99 S. Ct. 421 (1978). Second, a privacy interest, in the constitutional lexicon, consists of a reasonable expectation that uninvited and unauthorized persons will not intrude into a particular area. One may freely admit guests of one's choosing -- or be legally obliged to admit specific persons -- without sacrificing one's right to expect that a space will remain secure against all others. Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 489-90, 11 L. Ed. 2d 856, 84 S. Ct. 889 (1964); Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, 616-17, 5 L. Ed. 2d 828, 81 S. Ct. 776 (1961). Thus, we must determine, not whether Lyons assumed that he alone had access to Room 209, but whether he reasonably believed that the room and the closet were not open to the world at large. Third, an expectation of privacy, strictly speaking, consists of a belief that uninvited people will not intrude in a particular way. Such vectorial expectations often expand and contract independently of one another. Thus, a person may renounce his assumption that he is immune from one kind of invasion while retaining his belief that he is protected from others; by exposing oneself to public view, for instance, one does not relinquish one's right not to be overheard. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. at 352. We must assess the legitimacy, therefore, not of Lyons' expectation that his room and closet were private for all purposes, but of his assumption that the contents of the closet would not be removed and rifled.

Had Lyons rented his room in the usual fashion, and had the police walked in uninvited, application of the foregoing principles to the instant case would be straightforward and simple. The Supreme Court long ago made clear that "a guest in a hotel room is entitled to constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures." Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. at 490; accord Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293, 301, 87 S. Ct. 408, 17 L. Ed. 2d 374 (1966) (dicta). To be sure, the privacy to which such a hotel guest is entitled is not comparable in every respect to that of an owner or tenant of a house. The distinctive attributes of life in a hotel -- the facts that the occupants "share corridors, sidewalks, yards, and trees" and that each room abuts several others -- inevitably mute some of each guest's legitimate expectations. United States v. Agapito, 620 F.2d 324, 331-32 (2d Cir. 1980) (quoting United States v. Jackson, 588 F.2d 1046, 1052 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 941, 61 L. Ed. 2d 310, 99 S. Ct. 2882 (1979)), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 834, 101 S. Ct. 107, 66 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1980). But only those privacy interests affected by the "'open, public, and shared atmosphere' [of a hotel], together with the 'nearness' and transience of one's neighbors," id. at 332, suffer such diminution. Thus, it may be true that "an occupant of a hotel room with connecting doors cannot reasonably assume that his conversations -- even those spoken in a normal tone -- never will be overheard by others in an adjoining room." Id. at 332; accord United States v. Jackson, 588 F.2d at 1051-52; United States v. Burnett, 493 F. Supp. 948, 952 (N.D.N.Y. 1980), aff'd sub nom. United States v. Cook, 652 F.2d 55 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 452 U.S. 964, 69 L. Ed. 2d 975, 101 S. Ct. 3115 (1981). But see Amsterdam, Perspectives on the Fourth Amendment, 58 MINN. L. REV. 349, 404-05 (1974). Similarly, a guest may not be entitled to expect that crawl spaces adjacent to his room, which are accessible without entering the room itself, will not be invaded by a stranger. See Marullo v. United States, 328 F.2d 361, 363-64 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 850, 13 L. Ed. 2d 53, 85 S. Ct. 93 (1964). But those ...

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