United States v. Domenech, Nos. 08--1220 & 1221 (6th Cir. Oct. 7, 2010) (published). Judges Cook and Griffin in majority. Judge Norris dissented.
The defendants, two brothers, appealed their convictions for multiple firearm and drug offenses. Court found the brothers' legitimate expectation of privacy entitled them to suppression of certain inculpating evidence and reversed the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion to suppress.
* Man calling himself simply "Rogelio" rented two rooms at motel.
* Officers noted "suspicious activity" in one of the rooms and approached it.
* Two officers knocked on door while another went behind the building and stationed himself behind the frosted bathroom window of the motel room in question.
* Officer by bathroom window saw the lights go on and a figure enter the bathroom and lean over. The frosting on the window prevented the officer from seeing the person or any fixtures in the room.
* Expecting the figure to be disposing of evidence, the officer opened the bathroom window and swung his flashlight at one of the defendants.
* Commotion prompted the officers at the room's front door to burst into the room.
* Officers found the defendants, two women, drugs, guns, and counterfeit money.
* State court suppressed the evidence.
* Federal charges then brought.
Federal Suppression Motion:
* Defendants jointly moved to suppress the evidence.
* At hearing, government focused on the defendants' expectation of privacy.
* District court denied motion to suppress, finding the brothers lacked an expectation of privacy in the motel room, as they failed to show that they were the registrants or that they were sharing the room with the registrant.
* Defendants went to trial. At trial, one of the women testified that one of the brothers paid for the rooms and had directed Rogelio to rent the rooms for the group. The brothers were in a state of undress at the time of the officers' entry, had keys to the rooms, and had luggage in the rooms.
* Government conceded that the defendants had a subjective expectation of privacy in the room, but argued that the expectation was not objectively reasonable because of the criminal activity conducted in the rooms, the use of an agent to rent the rooms, and the agent's use of an alias.
* Court rejected idea that criminality undermines privacy expectations.
* Use of agent to rent rooms did not defeat a legally cognizable expectation of privacy.
* Use of alias by agent did not defeat reasonable expectation of privacy.
* "The Domenech brothers demonstrated lawful control/possession with evidence that they procured the room for their own use through their agent, paid for the room, possessed the key to the room, and occupied it both physically and with belongings."
* Use of an invalid motel registration did not defeat the reasonable expectation of privacy. "Because the Domenech brothers exercised control over Room 22 with this de facto permission of the motel, their lawful possession/control legitimizes their expectation of privacy, even if diminished by their agent’s use of an alias."
* The one brother had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the other brother's room b/c the first brother paid for the room, had personal belongings in the room, and held a key to the room.
* Exigent circumstances did not justify the search. Officers must have reasonably believed that the room's occupants were likely to destroy evidence.
* "Because the trooper could not see through the frosted window, the district court correctly held that he lacked probable cause to believe that the defendant would destroy evidence of a drug crime. Without probable cause, the officers cannot rely on exigent circumstances to justify this warrantless search."
* "This is not a case where appellants, acting on their own behalf used an alias to register as hotel guests. Instead, the appellants instructed a third party to rent a motel room under an assumed name (purportedly for his own use) where they could conduct illegal activity. While defendants had a subjective expectation of privacy, I am unconvinced that they have met their burden to establish that society would recognize that their expectation as legitimate when viewed 'in light of all of the surrounding circumstances.'"