Dopers w/legal please?

I’ll try to be brief.

I work a part time job as a night desk clerk at a local hotel. Last weekend, the local police came in asking whether we had a specific person registered as a guest. We found that indeed, she was registered. It seems she had trashed (in some fairly bizzarre ways) a room in a neighboring hotel two nights running, and after being locked out of that establishment had not resurfaced to collect her things and pay for the damage.

The police had me take them to her room, where they knocked loudly and shouted for her to open the door. No response. One officer told me that the staff at the other hotel thought this woman was unstable and might be suicidal. The asked me to call the room from the house phone. No response.

Then the police asked me to open the door with the passkey under the assumption that she was indeed in trouble and unable to respond. I did so only to find that the woman had chained the door on the inside.

Presented with this obstacle, I assumed that the next step would be to cut the chain and enter the room…probable cause and all that. Surprisingly, one officer called the States Attorney, and asked if they should enter the room. The SA says. “No, she has rights.” The police shrug, and prepare to leave. On the way out, one says, “You better warn housekeeping. They’re likely to find a stiff in the morning.”

I am dumbfounded. Based on the assertion that this is a potentially unstable person who may do harm to self or others isn’t entering the room to ascertain her condition a no-brainer? I am assuming that the SA is covering his ass…but from what?

Can someone with legal or law enforcement experience enlighten me?

PS. Turns out she was physically ok…just afraid of something/someone and she has since disappeared…

I’m no expert, but I’d guess that the staff of other hotel isn’t qualified in a legally acceptable way to determine if someone is suicidal or not.

Of course, this assumes that the police could enter the room if she was determined to be suicidal.

FWIW, she apparently ‘left a message’ as part of her vandalism in the other hotel…I wasn’t privy to the details.

IANAL etc. I would think that the police would be empowered to enter the room to arrest her on any charges that the first hotel is pressing, if the first hotel is pressing charges. I’m not aware of any law or precedent which would prevent them from taking custody of a wanted criminal just because she’s holed up in a hotel room. I would also think that incident to offering her aid or ascertaining her physical health would also allow them to enter the room. Now, the prosecutor’s ability to use anything found in the room as evidence against her may be another, stickier, question (and the stuff they find may well also be sticky), what with phrases like “exigent circumstances” and “incident to arrest” being thrown about by all sides, but I can’t think of any right she would have violated by having the police enter the room to take her into custody. I suspect there’s more to this story.

Not without a formal arrest warrant. The police can’t bust into someone’s residence (and a motel room probably qualifies in this case) – especially in the middle of the night – to arrest someone w/o an arrest warrant issued by a neutral magistrate. Simple police suspicion that the person has committed a crime is not enough.

The police and state attorney were, by the way, wrong. Well, at least with regard to U.S. federal law, anyway. When acting as “community caretakers” the police do have authority to bust down doors in the middle of the night, just like firemen do. The catch is that they have to be attempting to protect someone from harm rather than investigating a crime. If the police had a reasonable suspicion that someone inside the room had attempted to kill themselves, they had the legal authority to bust down the door, if necessary, to find out if she was alright.

Anyway, in this case, there is qualitatively no difference between unlocking the door and cutting the chain. In fact, having a chain on the door gives the police more justification for busting in since it demonstrates someone is inside.

In any case, you, as a landlord, certainly had a separate legal authority to enter the room on your own initiative. Even if you didn’t, so what? Was the suicidal room-trashing nutjob going to sue you for trespassing?

Excellent point Truth Seeker. I must admit that I was a little freaked out by it all and wasn’t really thinking straight, but since the event I have questioned my own actions (or lack thereof) a thousand times. Thankfully, I know that she didn’t expire as a direct result of my inaction.

Still, if they had gone in and gotten her some attention, she might be getting help now, instead of wherever she is…:frowning: