State v. Leonard, A17-2061

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtHUDSON, Justice.
Citation943 N.W.2d 149
Parties STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. John Thomas LEONARD, Appellant.
Decision Date13 May 2020
Docket NumberA17-2061

943 N.W.2d 149

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
John Thomas LEONARD, Appellant.

A17-2061

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Filed: May 13, 2020


OPINION

HUDSON, Justice.

943 N.W.2d 152

The State charged appellant John Thomas Leonard with check forgery based on evidence that law enforcement officers discovered in his hotel room. Leonard moved to suppress the State’s evidence. He argued, among other things, that the officers violated Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution when they examined the hotel guest registry (hereinafter "the guest registry"), which led them to his room, without the officers having any individualized suspicion of criminal activity. The district court denied his motion and later convicted Leonard of check forgery. The court of appeals affirmed.

We hold that the law enforcement officers conducted a search under Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution1 when they examined the guest registry. We hold further that law enforcement officers must have at least a reasonable, articulable suspicion to search a guest registry. Minnesota Statutes §§ 327.10 –.13 (2018) ("the hotel guest registry statutes") are constitutional because the phrases "shall be open" and "always accessible" do not authorize suspicionless searches. But, by

943 N.W.2d 153

admitting evidence from the search of Leonard’s hotel room—fruit of the illegal, suspicionless, search of the guest registry—the district court erred. We therefore reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with our decision here.

FACTS

Law enforcement officers arrived at a Bloomington hotel on August 14, 2015, for a hotel interdiction.2 The officers were not responding to a particular call. Without a warrant and without any individualized suspicion of criminal activity, the officers told the clerk on duty that they wanted to examine the guest registry and to be provided with the name of any guest who paid in cash. Hotels and all other overnight lodging establishments are required to keep these guest registries under the hotel guest registry statutes.3 Specifically, the hotel guest registry statutes require all lodging establishments to collect each guest’s name and address, vehicle information, and the names and addresses of any travel companions. Minn. Stat. § 327.10. Guests must provide this information to the hotel, and hotel operators must make this information available to law enforcement. Minn. Stat. §§ 327.10 –.13. Both hotel guests and hotel operators must comply with their statutory duties under threat of misdemeanor prosecution. Minn. Stat. § 327.13.

The clerk complied with the officers’ request to examine the guest registry and alerted them that a man had checked into a room for six hours and paid in cash.4 The

943 N.W.2d 154

officers used the guest registry to identify this man as Leonard. The officers then ran a background check and found that Leonard had prior arrests for, among other things, drugs, firearms, and fraud. Based on this information, the officers developed an individualized suspicion that Leonard was involved in criminal activity and decided to conduct a "knock and talk" at the door of Leonard’s hotel room. When Leonard heard the officers knock, he opened the door and gave them limited consent to search the room, but withheld access to his laptop, cell phone, and a file folder where several checks were visible. The officers subdued Leonard through a physical struggle after he tried to flee. After securing a search warrant, the officers discovered over $2,000 worth of suspicious checks paid to the order of "Spencer Alan Hill," over $5,000 in cash, and check-printing paper.

The State charged Leonard with two counts of check forgery under Minn. Stat. § 609.631, subd. 2(1) (2018), and Minn. Stat. § 609.31, subd. 3 (2018). Before trial, Leonard moved to suppress the evidence found in his hotel room. Leonard argued, among other things, that the officers’ suspicionless examination of the guest registry violated his rights under Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution. Leonard noted the purpose of hotel interdictions and discussed our decision in Ascher v. Commissioner of Public Safety , 519 N.W.2d 183 (Minn. 1994). More specifically, he wrote:

The purpose of "hotel interdictions" is to reduce the use of Minnesota hotels for drug trafficking and prostitution. [This particular hotel] and other Bloomington hotels are targeted by police because they are frequently used for drug trafficking and prostitution, just like the intersection in Ascher was selected for the high rate of DWI violations. As the Minnesota Supreme Court held in Ascher , there must be more than generalized suspicion to justify intrusion into the private affairs of Minnesotans. Here, there is clearly no more than a generalized suspicion.

Finally, Leonard argued that the evidence found in his hotel room must be suppressed because it was the fruit of the officers’ suspicionless search of the guest registry.

Acknowledging that Article I, section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches, the district court explained that Leonard had the burden of showing that law enforcement intruded upon his zone of privacy. The district court applied the third-party doctrine5 to determine that Leonard abandoned any reasonable expectation of privacy in his registry information when he gave it to the hotel employee who recorded it in the guest registry. The court reasoned that a guest has no constitutionally protected privacy interest in his hotel registration information, just like a customer has no such privacy interest in his banking information.

After the district court denied his motion to suppress, Leonard waived his right to a jury and submitted his case to the district court on stipulated evidence. The district court found Leonard guilty as

943 N.W.2d 155

charged and imposed a presumptive 17-month sentence on count 1.

On appeal, Leonard argued that the district court committed reversible error when it denied his motion to suppress. Leonard claimed that hotel guest registries are not analogous to bank records and that his expectation of privacy in the guest registry was legitimate and consistent with existing Minnesota law. He then argued that the guest registry statutes violated Article I, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution because the phrase "shall be open to the inspection of all law enforcement officers" in Minn. Stat. § 327.12 authorized suspicionless examinations of guest registries. Finally, he argued that the evidence found in his hotel room must be suppressed because it was the fruit of the officers’ suspicionless search of the guest registry.

The court of appeals affirmed. State v. Leonard , 923 N.W.2d 52 (Minn. App. 2019). Like the district court, it applied the third-party doctrine and held that Leonard could not challenge the officers’ examination because he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the guest registry.6 Id. at 56–58. We granted review.

ANALYSIS

Leonard argues that the district court committed reversible error by denying his pretrial motion to suppress the State’s evidence. For pretrial motions to suppress, we review the district court’s factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo. State v. Bourke , 718 N.W.2d 922, 927 (Minn. 2006). "Under the de novo standard, we do not defer to the analysis of the courts below, but instead we exercise independent review." Wheeler v. State , 909 N.W.2d 558, 563 (Minn. 2018).

The Bloomington Police officers had never heard of Leonard when they arrived at the hotel. They had not procured a warrant to search anything. Nor were they called to the hotel by its employees because of concerns regarding any particular guest. Thus, it is undisputed that they acted without individualized suspicion when they conducted the hotel interdiction and examined the guest registry. We, therefore, begin our analysis with a discussion of the existing protections against law enforcement’s suspicionless conduct.

We have repeatedly said that we have a responsibility to "safeguard for the people of Minnesota the protections embodied in our constitution." State v. Askerooth , 681 N.W.2d 353, 362 (Minn. 2004) ; O'Connor v. Johnson , 287 N.W.2d 400, 405 (Minn. 1979). We have previously condemned suspicionless searches, observing that "a free society will not remain free if police may use ... crime detection device[s] at random and without reason."7 State v. Carter , 697 N.W.2d 199, 211 (Minn. 2005) (quoting Commonwealth v. Johnston , 515 Pa. 454, 530 A.2d 74, 79 (Pa. 1987) ). In Carter , we acknowledged that a dog sniff outside a self-storage unit was not a Fourth Amendment "search" because, under federal

943 N.W.2d 156

precedent, it did "not implicate legitimate privacy interests." Carter , 697 N.W.2d at 208–09 (quoting Illinois v. Caballes , 543 U.S. 405, 409, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005) ). Nevertheless, we held that decisions from other state courts, as well as "our own Minnesota constitutional precedents"...

To continue reading

Request your trial
10 practice notes
  • State ex rel. Young v. Schnell, A17-1741
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • March 24, 2021
    ...our court. While we may turn to persuasive authority from other states when addressing issues of first impression, see State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 156–57 (Minn. 2020), such authority is only marginally helpful here.21 Accordingly, we focus primarily on the principles of habeas corpus......
  • White Bear Lake Restoration Ass'n ex rel. State v. Minn. Dep't of Natural Res., A18-0750
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • July 15, 2020
    ...elevations to which the DNR should manage the lakes, violates the constitutionally required separation of powers. See State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 160 (Minn. 2020) ("If we can construe a statute to avoid a constitutional confrontation, we are to do so." (citation omitted) (internal qu......
  • State v. McInnis, A20-0492
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 11, 2021
    ...N.W.2d at 224 ). The standard applies to trials before a district court, not just to trials before a jury. See, e.g. , State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 162–63 (Minn. 2020) (court trial on stipulated evidence); State v. Caulfield , 722 N.W.2d 304, 314 (Minn. 2006) (court trial). We address......
  • State v. Sargent, A19-1554
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 29, 2021
    ...to suppress, "we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo." State v. Leonard, 943 N.W.2d 149, 155 (Minn. 2020). Under a de novo standard, "we do not defer to the analysis of the courts below, but instead we exercise independent review......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • State ex rel. Young v. Schnell, A17-1741
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • March 24, 2021
    ...our court. While we may turn to persuasive authority from other states when addressing issues of first impression, see State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 156–57 (Minn. 2020), such authority is only marginally helpful here.21 Accordingly, we focus primarily on the principles of habeas corpus......
  • White Bear Lake Restoration Ass'n ex rel. State v. Minn. Dep't of Natural Res., A18-0750
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • July 15, 2020
    ...elevations to which the DNR should manage the lakes, violates the constitutionally required separation of powers. See State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 160 (Minn. 2020) ("If we can construe a statute to avoid a constitutional confrontation, we are to do so." (citation omitted) (internal qu......
  • State v. McInnis, A20-0492
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • August 11, 2021
    ...N.W.2d at 224 ). The standard applies to trials before a district court, not just to trials before a jury. See, e.g. , State v. Leonard , 943 N.W.2d 149, 162–63 (Minn. 2020) (court trial on stipulated evidence); State v. Caulfield , 722 N.W.2d 304, 314 (Minn. 2006) (court trial). We address......
  • State v. Sargent, A19-1554
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 29, 2021
    ...to suppress, "we review the district court's factual findings for clear error and its legal determinations de novo." State v. Leonard, 943 N.W.2d 149, 155 (Minn. 2020). Under a de novo standard, "we do not defer to the analysis of the courts below, but instead we exercise independent review......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT