Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer Lloyd Long discusses details surrounding the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court’s decision in the Jamil Murray case. The district court denied Murray’s motion to suppress and he entered a conditional guilty plea reserving his right to challenge the suppression ruling.
The Third Circuit affirmed. Police were investigating prostitution along Route 1 in Bensalem. A hotel owner gave them a tip about a green Cadillac being involved in prostitution. Later, a woman called police with a tip that Murray was in possession of drugs at another local hotel, the Knights Inn, and that he was driving a green Cadillac.
Police saw a green Cadillac parked outside another hotel, the Neshaminy Motor Inn, and learned it was registered to room 302. They knocked at the door and a woman dressed in lingerie, Jessica Burns, answered. She asked police if they were looking for a date. The responded in the negative and went back to the Knights Inn, where they saw both Murray and a different woman leaving a room registered to him.
Police returned to room 302 and, with persistent knocking, gained voluntary entry from the woman in lingerie (she told them she was “busy” a couple times). She admitted to being a prostitute and working for a drug dealer that supplied her. Burns later testified that she was the woman who made the anonymous call, but that she had not told police it was her that day.
While police were in the room, there was a knock at the door. Police thought it was another officer, but it was Murray. He was patted down and a cell phone and large amount of money was recovered, as were the keys to rooms at the Knights Inn. Murray tried to flee, but was apprehended. Search warrants were obtained and a whole lot of crack was recovered in one of the rooms at the Knights Inn.
Jessica Burns testified at the suppression hearing that she voluntarily let police into the room. The district court found her credible and determined that she had common authority, or at least apparent authority, to admit police. The Third Circuit agreed: the facts as known to the officers justified the belief that she was a prostitute who had access to and control over the hotel room for most purposes, including permitting or denying access to the room.
The district court also rightly determined that the Terry frisk of Murray was supported by reasonable suspicion. Officers received information from Burns that corroborated their earlier investigation that Murray was a drug dealer running a prostitution operation. That justified a concern that he was armed and dangerous.
Murray’s claim that Terry is inapplicable in a home (here, a hotel room) did not afford him relief. A hotel room is not a home, police were lawfully in the premises, and a potentially dangerous individual showed up unexpectedly. Moreover, the district court determined that the items seized from Murray were taken by consent. Its credibility determination was entitled to deference.