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State v. M.B.W.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

July 31, 2019

M.B.W., Appellee.


          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; Kathleen T. Hessinger, Acting Circuit Judge.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Elba Caridad Martin, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellant.

          Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Daniel Muller, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellee.

          LaROSE, Judge.

         The State appeals an order granting M.B.W.'s motion to suppress "[a]ny evidence incident to the search of [a] hotel room." We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.140(c)(1)(B). The State failed to justify law enforcement officers' warrantless entry into M.B.W.'s hotel room. See Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 750 (1984) ("[T]he burden is on the government to demonstrate exigent circumstances that overcome the presumption of unreasonableness that attaches to all warrantless home entries."); Byrd v. State, 16 So.3d 1026, 1028 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) ("The State bears the burden of rebutting the presumption that such warrantless entries are unreasonable."); Cooper v. State, 706 So.2d 369, 370 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998) (observing that "[t]he State . . . bore the burden to prove the lawfulness of the detective's warrantless entry into the room"); Mestral v. State, 16 So.3d 1015, 1017 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009) ("Where, as here, the State relies on exigent circumstances, '[t]he burden rests on the State to show the existence of such an exceptional situation.'" (quoting Vale v. Louisiana, 399 U.S. 30, 34 (1970)); see, e.g., State v. Fultz, 189 So.3d 155, 158 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) ("Exigent circumstances are one such exception that may justify a warrantless search, but the police must have an objectively reasonable basis to support their actions." (citing Vanslyke v. State, 936 So.2d 1218, 1221-22 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006))); Diaz v. State, 34 So.3d 797, 802 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) ("The officers must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the protective sweep is necessary due to a safety threat or the destruction of evidence."). Thus, we affirm.


         Law enforcement officers had an outstanding probable cause affidavit for M.B.W. stemming from a misdemeanor domestic battery. Learning "that [M.B.W.] was at an Express Inn," officers went there and spoke to the manager. Being told that M.B.W. was a minor, the manager asked the officers to remove him from the premises. As it turns out, another occupant of the room, J.S., was also a minor and had rented the room using a false name. Three officers and the manager went to the room; upon arriving, the manager knocked on the door.

         M.B.W. answered the door and the officers recognized him immediately. Detective Dodson "reached in [the room] and grabbed [M.B.W.'s] arm to place him under arrest." The officers removed M.B.W. from the doorway and secured him in the hallway/breezeway. At that point, one of the officers saw another occupant dart toward the back of the room.[1] Ultimately, a third occupant was discovered hiding in the bathroom. After handcuffing M.B.W., the officers entered the hotel room with M.B.W. in tow. The officers observed, in plain view, a scale with cocaine resting on a nightstand. They also noticed a backpack resting behind the scale. After being read their Miranda[2] rights, the three occupants disclaimed ownership of the backpack. Believing the backpack to have been abandoned, the officers opened it and discovered Xanax, marijuana, and alprazolam inside.

         Later, the officers obtained a hotel surveillance video. The video showed M.B.W. "waiting outside - just outside the front door as J.S. was checking into the hotel." The video depicts M.B.W. wearing a backpack identical to that found in the hotel room.

         In granting M.B.W.'s suppression motion, the trial court reasoned that once M.B.W. was arrested in the doorway, "no further action was necessary by the police." Therefore, they "had no lawful authority to enter the hotel room and no lawful authority to search the backpack." The trial court also found that it was the hotel manager's obligation, not that of the officers, to remove the minors from the premises. The trial court found no exigent circumstances justifying entry into the room because "[t]he officers gave no testimony as to why the movement of the other male occupant in the room caused any type of alarm for their safety." To support this point, the trial court observed that the officers dragged M.B.W. back into the room with them.

         On appeal, the State raises two main arguments. First, the State argues that M.B.W. lacked standing to challenge the officers' entry into the room because "the person [who] did rent the room did so illegally as she was a minor and used a false name." Second, the State contends that officers had a right to enter the hotel room without a warrant because: (a) the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement justified a protective sweep;[3] and, (b) they were lawfully assisting the hotel manager to evict the minors from the premises.


         "[I]n reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, this court must give deference to the trial court's factual findings if those findings are supported by competent, substantial evidence, but this court must review the trial court's ruling of law de novo." State v. Roman, 103 So.3d 922, 924 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012).

         I. Standing

         The State claims that "M.B.W. had no expectation of privacy in the hotel room. First, he did not rent the room. Second, the person that did rent the room did so illegally as she was a minor and used a false name." We cannot agree. See Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 33 (2001) ("[A] Fourth Amendment search occurs when the government violates a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable."); State v. Markus, 211 So.3d 894, 902 (Fla. 2017) ("A person has standing to claim Fourth Amendment protection if that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the invaded place." (citing Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 95 (1990))).

         The State raised standing in the trial court after the parties' presentation of evidence. As such, we are dubious of the State's complaint, made for the first time on appeal, that M.B.W. "failed to introduce any evidence or argue any legal authority [to the trial court] establishing a reasonable expectation of privacy." See State v. Pettis, 266 So.3d 238, 239 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019) ("Although standing was not raised below, the State correctly observes that it may raise lack of standing for the first time on appeal."); State v. Setzler, 667 So.2d 343, 345 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995) ("The defense has the burden to prove standing, where standing is at issue.") (emphasis added).

         Nevertheless, any failure to present evidence on this issue would not compel reversal; ordinarily, we would remand for the trial court to receive evidence about M.B.W.'s standing. See, e.g., Murphy v. State, 32 So.3d 122, 125 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) ("While the issue can be addressed by this court, Murphy was never given an opportunity to meet his burden of proof on this issue. Accordingly, Murphy is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the matter." (citation omitted)); McCauley v. State, 842 So.2d 897, 900 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) ("Because McCauley was not given an opportunity to prove his interest in the premises below due to the State's tacit concession of standing, we conclude that he is entitled to a hearing on the matter."). We need not do that here. On our record, we can dispose of the State's standing argument. See Hendley v. State, 58 So.3d 296, 299 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) (declining to reverse and remand trial court's denial of motion to suppress on issue of standing raised for the first time on appeal because "a remand for that purpose would be a futile exercise in this case").

         a. Identity of payor not dispositive of standing

         The State contends that M.B.W. lacked standing because he did not rent the room. The State misses the mark. The touchstone of any Fourth Amendment analysis is whether the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place searched. See Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143 (1978); see also Williams v. State, 982 So.2d 1190, 1194 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) ("A citizen's right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States is determined by a two prong test: 1) whether the citizen had a subjective expectation of privacy; and 2) whether that expectation was one that society recognizes as reasonable." (citing State v. Smith, 641 So.2d 849, 851 (Fla. 1994))). Generally, hotel guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their lodgings. See Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483, 489-90 (1964) ("[A] guest in a hotel room is entitled to constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures."); Cooper, 706 So.2d at 370 ("The occupants of a motel room enjoy the protection of the Fourth Amendment."); Gnann v. State, 662 So.2d 406, 407 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) ("The constitutional rights and privileges that apply to occupants of private permanent dwellings also apply to motel guests."); State v. McRae, 194 So.3d 524, 528 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) ("A private home (including a motel room) 'is an area where a person enjoys the highest reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.'" (quoting Gonzalez v. State, 578 So.2d 729, 734 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991))); Green v. State, 824 So.2d 311, 314 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002) ("As homes to the peripatetic, hotel and motel rooms are legally imbued 'with the sanctity of private dwellings, ordinarily afforded the most stringent Fourth Amendment protection.'" (quoting United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 561 (1976))); State v. Wesley, 749 So.2d ...

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