376 U.S. 483 (1964), 209, Stoner v. California

Docket Nº:No. 209
Citation:376 U.S. 483, 84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d 856
Party Name:Stoner v. California
Case Date:March 23, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 483

376 U.S. 483 (1964)

84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d 856




No. 209

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1964

Argued February 25, 1964




Police developed a lead near the scene of a robbery which ultimately led them to a hotel where, without a warrant, they searched petitioner's room in his absence, having been given access thereto by a hotel clerk. There they found articles like those associated with the crime by an eyewitness. Petitioner was arrested two days later in another State, and, following a trial in which the articles were used as evidence, was convicted.


1. A search without a warrant can be justified as incident to arrest only if substantially contemporaneous and confined to the immediate vicinity of arrest. Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, followed. Pp. 484-487.

2. A hotel guest is entitled to the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The hotel clerk had no authority to permit the room search, and the police had no basis to believe that petitioner had authorized the clerk to permit the search. Pp. 488-490.

205 Cal.App. 2d 108, 22 Cal.Rptr. 718, reversed.

Page 484

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was convicted of armed robbery after a jury trial in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California. At the trial, several articles which had been found by police officers in a search of the petitioner's hotel room during his absence were admitted into evidence over his objection. A District Court of Appeal of California affirmed the conviction,1 and the Supreme Court of California denied further review.2 We granted certiorari, limiting review "to the question of whether evidence was admitted which had been obtained by an unlawful search and seizure." 374 U.S. 826. For the reasons which follow, we conclude that the petitioner's conviction must be set aside.

The essential facts are not in dispute. On the night of October 25, 1960, the Budget Town Food Market in Monrovia, California, was robbed by two men, one of whom was described by eyewitnesses as carrying a gun and wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a grey jacket. Soon after the robbery, a checkbook belonging to the petitioner was found in an adjacent parking lot and turned over to the police. Two of the stubs in the checkbook indicated that checks had been drawn to the order of the Mayfair Hotel in Pomona, California. Pursuing this lead, the officers learned from the Police Department of Pomona that the petitioner had a previous criminal record, and they obtained from the Pomona police a photograph of the petitioner. They showed the photograph to the two eyewitnesses to the robbery, who both stated that the picture looked like the man who had carried the gun. On the basis of this information, the officers went to the Mayfair Hotel in Pomona at about 10

Page 485

o'clock on the night of October 27. They had neither search nor arrest warrants. There then transpired the following events, as later recounted by one of the officers:

We approached the desk, the night clerk, and asked him if there was a party by the name of Joey L. Stoner living at the hotel. He checked his [84 S.Ct. 891] records and stated, "Yes, there is." And we asked him what room he was in. He stated he was in Room 404, but he was out at this time.

We asked him how he knew that he was out. He stated that the hotel regulations required that the key to the room would be placed in the mail box each time they left the hotel. The key was in the mail box, that he therefore knew he was out of the room.

We asked him if he would give us permission to enter the room, explaining our reasons for this.

Q. What reasons did you explain to the clerk?

A. We explained that we were there to make an arrest of a man who had possibly committed a robbery in the City of Monrovia, and that we were concerned about the fact that he had a weapon. He stated "In this case, I will be more than happy to give you permission, and I will take you directly to the room."

Q. Is that what the clerk told you?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. What else happened?

A. We left one detective in the lobby, and Detective Oliver, Officer Collins, and myself, along with the night clerk, got on the elevator and proceeded to the fourth floor, and went to Room 404. The night clerk placed a key in the lock, unlocked the door, and says, "Be my guest."

The officers entered, and made a thorough search of the room and its contents. They found a pair of horn-rimmed

Page 486

glasses and a grey jacket in the room, and a .45-caliber automatic pistol with a clip and several cartridges in the bottom of a bureau drawer. The petitioner was arrested two days later in Las Vegas, Nevada. He waived extradition, and was returned to California for trial on the charge of armed robbery. The gun, the cartridges and clip, the horn-rimmed glasses, and the grey jacket were all used as evidence against him at his trial.

The search of the petitioner's room by the police officers was conducted without a warrant of any kind, and it therefore

can survive constitutional inhibition only upon a showing that the surrounding facts brought it within one of the exceptions to the rule that a search must rest upon a search warrant. Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 499; United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 51.

Rios v. United States, 364 U.S. 253, 261. The District Court of Appeal thought the search was justified as an incident to a lawful arrest.3 But a search can be incident to an arrest only if it is substantially contemporaneous with the arrest, and is confined to the immediate vicinity of the arrest. Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20.4

Page 487

Whatever room for leeway there may be in these [84 S.Ct. 892] concepts,5 it is clear that the search of the petitioner's hotel room in Pomona, California, on October 27 was not incident to his arrest in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 29. The search was completely unrelated to the arrest, both as to time and as to place. See Preston v. United States, decided this day, ante, p. 364.

In this Court, the respondent has recognized that the reasoning of the California District Court of Appeal cannot be reconciled with our decision in Agnello, nor, indeed, with the most recent California decisions.6 Accordingly, the respondent has made no argument that the search can be justified as an incident to the petitioner's arrest. Instead, the argument is made that the search of the hotel room, although conducted without the petitioner's consent, was lawful because it was conducted

Page 488

with the consent of the hotel clerk. We find this argument unpersuasive.

Even if it be assumed that a state law which gave a hotel proprietor blanket authority to authorize the police to search the rooms of the hotel's guests could survive constitutional challenge, there is no intimation in the California cases cited by the respondent that California has any such law.7 Nor is there any substance to the claim that the search was reasonable because the police, relying upon the night clerk's expressions of consent, had a reasonable basis for the belief that the clerk had authority to consent to the search. Our decisions make clear that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment are not to be eroded by strained applications of the law of agency or by unrealistic doctrines of "apparent authority."...

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