The law looks at booked hotel rooms very similarly to private properties. If the police want to apprehend someone in a hotel room, they can’t enter or even check for their name in the registry without a warrant.
However, if they have a warrant and suspect you’re in a certain hotel, they can look up the registry and apprehend you in the room.
This can make for a very unpleasant vacation surprise if you don’t even know there’s a warrant against you, and you find yourself suddenly being handcuffed and taken into custody amidst your much-needed time off.
But do police officers frequently check hotels and their registries for warrants, or are arrests in hotels rare? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this query, so read on for a more thorough explanation of police procedures when a warranted person checks into a hotel.
The Short Answer
There’s no way to know how often police officers check hotels for guests with an active warrant. The answer depends on factors like the type of warrant, the crime the guest is wanted for, the urgency of fulfilling the warrant, and available police resources.
Moreover, it depends on the size of the jurisdiction of the hotel and warrant. For example, a smaller county with only a couple of thousand residents will likely only have a few motels to check, so it’s easier for police officers to run through them.
On the other hand, a larger city or area, especially tourist places with many hotels, will require a much more extensive search before the police can pinpoint the exact hotel and warranted person.
How Often Do Police Officers Search Hotels for Warrants?
Law enforcement agencies in different jurisdictions have different procedures that tell their officers how to approach situations like arrest warrants and search warrants that best fit the jurisdiction.
Besides, many police departments, sheriff’s offices, and other law enforcement agencies don’t publish their exact methods of searching for and finding criminals since it could act as a guideline for criminals on how to avoid apprehension.
Because of these factors, it’s hard to tell exactly how often police officers search hotels for warrants.
However, some variables make up the equation. And by understanding these variables and considering your jurisdiction’s circumstances, you can roughly estimate how often your local authorities might conduct these searches.
But even then, most law departments don’t have a strict code for this frequency, and officers will check hotels on a whim or gut feeling instead.
Type of Warrant
Not all warrants are created equal. And while there are many niche types of warrants, we’re only concerned with the three most common: arrest, search, and bench warrants.
Bench warrants are issued by judges against individuals who violate a court order or otherwise show contempt of court. For example, failing to show up at a court date, not paying a court-obligated fine, or violating a probation term.
Because bench warrants are relatively much less urgent, police officers don’t actively search for people with a bench warrant. Instead, those with a bench warrant against them are often apprehended upon their next encounter with the police.
So we can cross bench warrants out easily.
Arrest warrants are another world of their own. They can be issued for any crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, violent or otherwise.
Because of the relatively large number of active arrest warrants and the variety of crimes the arrestees are wanted for, the police tend to prioritize high-risk suspects who are likely to flee.
For instance, someone wanted for murder, felony battery, or felony domestic violence will attract more attention than, say, a shoplifting or vandalism warrant.
But that doesn’t mean the police will ignore less serious warrants until they catch the top priority ones. If you have an arrest warrant for a petty crime and the police know where you are, they’ll likely come after you nonetheless.
To sum up, the police take as long as they need to catch you. If you’re a high-risk suspect and they suspect you’re in a certain vicinity, they might check the hotels regularly there until they find you.
Some other officers could check the license plates of parked vehicles on their patrol. And if they find a car belonging to a warranted suspect, that’s enough grounds to check nearby areas for them, including hotels.
Search warrants are easier for officers because they target a specific location. Sometimes it’s a car, trailer, or some other vehicle, which makes it harder for the police to track it down if its owner is evading. But search warrants are often issued against a fixed location, such as an apartment or hotel room.
Police officers tend to execute search warrants quickly since they’re often part of a larger investigation or pursuit of a suspect.
And depending on how urgent the crime is, the police can get a warrant issued and executed in as little as an hour or two. For example, if there was a deadly weapon used in a crime and they have probable cause to believe the suspect hid it in a hotel room, they can get a warrant to search the hotel for that weapon.
Available Police Resources
Not all jurisdictions are equally busy. And, believe it or not, many police departments are very understaffed for the amount of crime that occurs in their jurisdiction.
In contrast, some law enforcement agencies are “overstaffed.” It’s not hard to imagine how a sheriff’s office or police station can be overstaffed if they’re overlooking a small rural village that doesn’t get much crime.
In busier places, the police often don’t have time to look for most petty warrants, so they will only pursue the most dangerous suspects.
But in less busy areas, the police often try to execute active and open warrants. And if it’s a small town or village with a few hotels or motels, that might include checking their registries for suspects.
Another common thing for available officers to do is check the license plates of parked vehicles, which we discussed above.
Popular Crime Hotspots
There are nearly 100,000 hotels and motels in the US. And for many criminals, hotels are the perfect place to commit a crime or hide evidence without being tied to it.
But these criminals don’t favor all the hotels equally since some are more lax on certain regulations, have a more “advantageous” location, or otherwise. And over the past decades, some hotels and motels have become more popular in police circles as favorites among criminals.
The Motel 6 chain is one of the most popular examples. Some branches, like the Las Vegas one, have faced periods of crime infestation.
Can the Hotel Itself Check for Warrants?
Another common concern is that the hotel staff themselves will check for warrants when you try to check in and will either deny you entry or call the police if you have an arrest warrant against you.
In reality, most hotels won’t check if their visitors have warrants. Instead, they’ll mostly focus on the hospitality element and the visitor’s privacy.
However, if they suspect criminal activity, especially if it threatens the hotel’s guests or staff, they can call the police and check if the visitor has a warrant.