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Judges affirm sniff search in hotel did not violate guest’s constitutional rights

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A trial court properly admitted contraband seized from a woman’s hotel room into evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday. One judge on the panel departed from his colleagues’ need to discuss that the officers’ search was justified because they acted in good faith.

The Holiday Inn Express in Martinsville was concerned that drug use was occurring in the hotel after finding paraphernalia in its rooms, so it asked Martinsville Police to bring canine units to the hotel to conduct free air sniffs in the common areas and hallways.

A sniff by canine Dasko in a hallway led police officer Blake Long to Kimberly Blankenship’s room. She denied permission to enter, but while the door was open, officers saw another woman, Courtney Malone, asleep on a bed. When Blankenship was unable to wake her up, an officer entered the room fearing for her safety and woke her up.

The officers then applied for a search warrant, and upon executing it, found drugs, a digital scale, needles and other paraphernalia. Blankenship was convicted of Class D felonies unlawful possession of a syringe and maintaining a common nuisance.

She appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the items from the hotel room into evidence. She claimed the dog’s sniff search of the hallways violated her rights under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

“In sum, we need not reach Blankenship’s argument that Article 1, Section 11 prohibited the officers from walking canine units in the common area of the hotel, at the hotel management’s request, absent reasonable suspicion,” Judge Edward Najam wrote in Kimberly D. Blankenship v. State of Indiana, 55A05-1307-CR-342. “The officers searched Blankenship’s hotel room while objectively and reasonably relying on a search warrant. There is no evidence that the officers had knowledge, or should be charged with knowledge, that the sniff-search in the hallway may have been unconstitutional. Accordingly, there is no ‘wrongful police conduct’ to deter, and suppression of the evidence under the exclusionary rule would not be appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of this case.”

Judge John Baker concurred in result, writing that the evidence in this case establishes that Dasko’s sniff sweep at the hotel, at the manager’s request, was reasonable, and the good faith reliance discussion by the majority set forth in Hoop v. State, 990 N.E.2d 463 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), does not control the outcome here.

 

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