On October 13, 2021, the Court of Appeals of Florida decided Robinson v. State[i], which is instructive regarding the law related to canine sniffs at motel common areas.  The facts of Robinson, taken directly from the case, are as follows:

Appellant was residing in room 5 of the Youngstown Motel, which is a single-story, multi-unit building with a common exterior walkway running from one side of the building to the other, traversing in front of each motel room door. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for room 5 based in part on a K-9 sniff of the motel’s common exterior walkway that gave a positive alert for illegal drug odors emanating from Appellant’s room. During the ensuing search, the police found methamphetamine, hydrocodone, and a digital scale and meth pipe.[ii]

Robinson was charged and filed a motion to suppress, where he argued that the canine sniff of the exterior walkway near his motel door violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.  The trial court denied the motion to suppress and Robinson was convicted.  He appealed the denial of his motion to suppress to the Court of Appeals of Florida.

The issue on appeal was whether officers violated the Fourth Amendment by walking a drug-sniffing canine along the common motel walkway and in front of each motel door.

The court of appeals first examined the legal principles related to the issue at hand.  The court stated

A hotel or motel room is considered the private dwelling of the occupant so long as he or she is there legally, and the occupant is entitled to the same rights inside the hotel/motel room as the resident of a private permanent dwelling. See Sheff v. State, 301 So. 2d 13, 16 (Fla. 1st DCA 1974), aff’d, 329 So. 2d 270 (Fla. 1976); Jackson v. State, 18 So. 3d 1016, 1028 (Fla. 2009); Rebello v. State, 773 So. 2d 579, 580 n.2 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000); Sturdivant v. State, 578 So. 2d 869, 870 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991). “However, areas which are outside of a hotel room, such as hallways, which are open to use by others may not be reasonably considered as private” as they are public areas where officers have a right to be present. Brant v. State, 349 So. 2d 674, 675 (Fla. 3d DCA 1977).[iii]

The court also discussed Florida precedent from 2004 that is directly on-point to Robinson’s case.  The court stated

In Nelson v. State, as in this case, the police conducted a sniff test in the hallway outside of the appellant’s hotel room and used the K-9’s positive alert to obtain a search warrant for his room. 867 So. 2d 534, 535 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004). The Fifth District affirmed the denial of the appellant’s motion to suppress, rejecting his argument that the police did not have a right to walk the hotel’s hallways in search of drugs. Id. The court recognized the general rule that constitutional rights that apply to occupants of private dwellings also apply to hotel guests, but found the rule inapplicable because the appellant “did not have a valid expectation of privacy” as “[a]reas outside of a hotel room, such as hallways, which are open to use by others may not be reasonably considered as private.” Id. “[T]he hallway was on the premises controlled by the hotel management and was a common walkway for the use of hotel guests, visitors, employees and probably by the general public”; “the Fourth Amendment was not even applicable to any action that took place in the hallway where the police had the right to be.” Id. at 535-36.[iv]

Robinson argued that United States Supreme Court case, Florida v. Jardines[v], should control this issue.  In 2013, in Jardines, the Supreme Court held that when officers walked a K9 to the front door of Jardines’s house to sniff the exterior of the home, they conducted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  This is because they intruded onto the constitutionally protected curtilage of the home in order to search for evidence of a crime.

The court then discussed various factors to consider in determining if an area is considered “curtilage” such that it is afforded the protection of the Fourth Amendment.  The court stated

[T]he central inquiry in determining if an area constitutes curtilage is whether the area harbors the ‘intimate activity associated with the ‘sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life,'” which determination requires the weighing of four factors: “1) the proximity of the area at issue to the home; 2) whether the area is within the enclosure surrounding the home; 3) the particular use of the area; and 4) the steps taken to protect the area from observation from individuals passing by.” Davis v. State, 257 So. 3d 1159, 1161 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) (quoting Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180, 104 S. Ct. 1735, 80 L. Ed. 2d 214 (1984), and United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 107 S. Ct. 1134, 94 L. Ed. 2d 326 (1987)).[vi]

The court of appeals then held that the area outside of Robinson’s motel door was not curtilage and not afforded constitutional protection.  This is because it is open to the public.  Specifically, the court explained

Based on the foregoing case law, the dog sniff conducted on the common external walkway in front of Appellant’s motel room did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment. The walkway was open to use by others, including other motel guests, visitors, and employees, and it was in the nature of a public, not private, area. Just as other persons, the police could walk down the motel walkway without a warrant. Case law distinguishes common areas outside a hotel/motel room from the curtilage of a home. While a resident of a private home has a reasonable expectation of privacy on the front porch or in the backyard, a motel guest does not have a reasonable privacy expectation in a common area. The walkway in front of a motel room is not curtilage, and Appellant does not contend otherwise, because it does not harbor the intimate activity associated with the sanctity of a home and the privacies of life. While the walkway was in close proximity to Appellant’s motel room, it was not within an enclosure surrounding his room/residence only, it was for use by the public, and there was no evidence that Appellant took any steps to protect it from observation by people passing by or that it was used for other purposes by him. As such, Jardines and other cases involving a dog sniff on the curtilage of a private home do not apply here.[vii]

Therefore, the court of appeals held the K9 sniff of the motel door from the exterior walkway did not violate the Fourth Amendment and affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.



[i] 2021 Fla. App. LEXIS 13874  (Decided October 13, 2021)

[ii] Id. at 1

[iii] Id. at 3 (emphasis added)

[iv] Id. at 3-4 (emphasis adde)

[v] 569 U.S. 1 (2013)

[vi] Robinson at 6 (emphasis added)

[vii] Id. at 7-8 (emphasis adde)

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