Court rules disturbing a drug dealer in hotel is OK

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Missing the check-out time at a hotel can lead to prison.

A man staying at a hotel in southwestern Michigan had no right to privacy when a housekeeper discovered about 200 grams of cocaine while cleaning a room after the 11 a.m. check-out deadline, a federal appeals court said last Thursday.

"A hotel guest has a periodic right to occupy a room, not a permanent one," the three-judge panel said.

Room 206 at a Comfort Suites near Benton Harbor had a "do not disturb" sign on the doorknob. After several knocks with no answer, housekeeper Stephanie Price entered and found crack cocaine, powder cocaine and a scale.

Denois Lanier was arrested when he returned less than an hour later. He eventually pleaded guilty in federal court in Grand Rapids and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.

Lanier's attorney, Larry Phelan, argued that his client was the victim of an illegal search in March 2008. The appeals court, however, noted that Lanier had not asked the hotel to extend his stay beyond 11 a.m.

"Just because a hotel does not change keycards at 11:00 a.m. every day, or does not charge guests for an extra night every time they have not removed all of their personal items by 11:00 a.m., does not mean that the guest ... retains control over the room," judges Alice Batchelder, Boyce Martin Jr. and Jeffrey Sutton said.

They affirmed the decision of U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids.

"There is nothing unusual about a hotel housekeeper's entering a room after the check-out time and after no one responds to a knock on the door," the appeals court said.

Published: Mon, Apr 18, 2011