Justices will decide privacy case on hotel records

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2014 11:49 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to referee a dispute over police access to hotels' guest information without first getting a search warrant.

The justices said they will hear an appeal by the city of Los Angeles of a lower court ruling that struck down an ordinance that requires hotel operators to open their guest registries at the demand of police.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco divided 7-4 in ruling that the ordinance violates the privacy rights of the hotels, but not their guests.

Courts in other parts of the country have upheld similar laws.

Cities argue that the ordinances help fight prostitution and illegal gambling, aid in the pursuit of fugitives and even could be a tool to track suspects following a terrorist attack. Los Angeles has said the ordinance makes prostitutes and drug dealers less likely to use hotels if they know that the facilities must collect information about guests and make them available to police on a moment's notice.

Judge Paul Watford wrote for the appeals court that the records are a hotel's private property and "the hotel has the right to exclude others from prying into the contents of its records."

In dissent, Judge Richard Clifton said that courts previously have ruled that hotel guests have no expectation of privacy in records of their names and room numbers. "A guest's information is even less personal to the hotel than it is to the guest," Clifton said.

The case is Los Angeles v. Patel, 13-1175.

In a second case from California, the justices said they will consider reinstating the conviction and death sentence in a 29-year-old triple murder in San Diego.

The state appealed a lower court ruling that overturned the conviction and sentence for Hector Ayala. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Ayala was denied a fair trial because prosecutors excused all seven black and Hispanic jurors who might have served.

The jury convicted Ayala of killing three people during a drug robbery at a San Diego garage in 1985.

The case is Chappell v. Ayala, 13-1428.

The third appeal accepted Monday questions whether a convicted felon still can sell or transfer guns that he can no longer own because of his criminal conviction.

Tony Henderson, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana, voluntarily turned 19 guns over to federal authorities after he had been charged.

Henderson wanted to sell the weapons to a friend or transfer them to his wife because federal law prohibits people convicted of crimes from owning guns. But lower federal courts ruled against Henderson.

The case is Henderson v U.S., 13-1487.

All three cases will be argued during the winter.

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Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.