THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF FREDERICKSBURG J. Martin
Bass, Judge Designate
D. Husby (Office of the Public Defender, on brief), for
Benjamin H. Katz, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R.
Herring, Attorney General; Kathleen B. Martin, [*] Senior Assistant
Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Decker, AtLee and Malveaux Argued at
GRAFF DECKER, JUDGE
Lateef Salahuddin appeals his convictions for possession of
heroin with intent to distribute in violation of Code §
18.2-248, possession of cocaine in violation of Code §
18.2-250, and obstruction of justice in violation of Code
§ 18.2-460. On appeal, he argues that the circuit court
erroneously denied his motion to suppress evidence obtained
through an allegedly unlawful entry of a hotel room. He also
reasons that absent information obtained in the unlawful
search, the evidence was insufficient to support his
conviction for obstruction of justice. Further, the appellant
contends that the circuit court's admission of testimony
estimating the weight of heroin observed in the hotel room
was error. We hold that the officers' entry into the
hotel room was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the
United States Constitution and, accordingly, that the denial
of the motion to suppress was not error. We further hold that
the appellant's challenge regarding the obstruction of
justice conviction fails in light of our determination that
the search was constitutional. Finally, we conclude that any
error in admitting the challenged testimony estimating the
weight of the heroin was harmless. Consequently, we affirm
the appellant's convictions.
January 15, 2015, Aaron Heid, an acquaintance of the
appellant, rented a room in a Fredericksburg hotel for a
one-week period. Heid rented the room on the appellant's
behalf and never stayed there himself. According to Heid, the
appellant said he could not rent the room directly from the
hotel because he had lost his identification. Heid also
indicated that the appellant reimbursed him for the cost of
property manager Brittany Fowler handled the transaction with
Heid. When Heid registered at the hotel, he signed a card
acknowledging, among other things, that the hotel
"reserve[d] the right to conduct random inspections of
each room, regardless of whether a guest [was] present for
any such inspection." The card further made clear that
the guest's failure to comply with any federal, state or
local laws or hotel rules could result in the hotel's
asking the guest to "leave the premises." It also
indicated the "acknowledg[ment]" that the occupant
was "a transient guest of this lodging establishment . .
. and registration . . . [did] not establish a permanent
residence, household or dwelling unit." Finally, by
signing the card, the registrant agreed that "no
landlord/tenant relationship" was created and that
"landlord/tenant statutes" were not applicable to
the registrant's stay. The language on the card made no
reference to a search of the room by law enforcement. The
card also did not list names of any registered guests other
to Fowler, hotel staff "try to get in[to] every room in
the hotel at least once a week" to check for
cleanliness, fire hazards, and anything else that might
"pose a threat" to other hotel guests. She affirmed
that this entry practice was "independent of
housekeeping and maintenance."
January 16, 2015, while observing activity on the hotel's
video surveillance equipment, Fowler noticed that six or
seven people entered and almost immediately left Room 404,
the room rented by Heid, in a thirty-minute period. Fowler
had not seen Heid since he registered the previous day. She
also did not recognize any of the people coming and going
from Room 404 as registered guests, which "made [her] .
. . suspicious." Fowler waited until she believed the
room was vacant and entered it. Once inside, Fowler saw what
appeared to be "a very large amount of marijuana"
in plain view on an open shelf. She left the room and
notified the police. Fowler testified that "from [her]
experience working in the hotel, " she was acquainted
with the appearance and packaging of illegal drugs, which was
"why [she] was inclined to call the police."
Brooks and Richard Young, patrol officers with the City of
Fredericksburg Police Department, were dispatched to the
hotel. When Brooks and Young arrived, Fowler told them about
the heavy "foot traffic" and the suspected
marijuana on the shelf in Room 404. Using her key, Fowler
opened the door to the room, entered with the officers, and
pointed to what appeared to be marijuana buds in plain view
on the shelf. Also visible in the room were various articles
of clothing and other personal items. The officers examined
the substance on the shelf more closely and believed, like
Fowler, that it was marijuana.
the officers were examining the suspected marijuana and
looking at the other items in the room, Fowler opened a
drawer in the kitchenette and saw what she thought were
"more drugs." According to Fowler, the officers did
not ask her to open the drawer and she did so "on [her]
own accord" in order to "finish the room
inspection" that she had originally entered to perform.
Fowler called the officers' attention to the contents of
the drawer. They saw "a large brick of a white to
off-white substance in a plastic baggy, " which they
believed to be "heroin in solid form." Young
described the substance as "one of the larger bags . . .
that [he had] seen personally of suspected heroin" in
his fourteen years in law enforcement. Also in the drawer
were plastic bags, a digital scale, and "other items
that [they] would consider to be drug paraphernalia."
These items were consistent with packaging of marijuana and
various other illegal narcotics for distribution.
and Young finished looking around the room but did not search
it. They then left with Fowler. Brooks telephoned Detective
Sergeant Devin Clarke, of the department's narcotics
division, and described the circumstances that led to the
discovery of the marijuana and heroin.
arrived at the hotel a few minutes later, and the hotel
manager opened the room for him. He photographed the
suspected narcotics and the surrounding area and then left to
obtain a search warrant. While present in the room, Clarke
saw the marijuana, which he estimated was about half an
ounce. In the open drawer, he saw the digital scale with
visible residue, another small bag of marijuana, and
"what appeared to be heroin in almost brick
form." He also saw "indicia of packaging
materials[, ] . . . numerous empty [convenience store] bags
that had the corners ripped out." Additionally, there
were "many lottery tickets, " which Clarke
testified were used to package heroin. He explained that the
waxy surface film on the tickets was particularly useful in
"keep[ing the heroin] together." He noted that the
suspected heroin "had not been ground down or powdered
down for resale." Clarke also testified that a typical
heroin user would possess the substance in a much smaller
amount, one-tenth of a gram. He explained that a user would
"not have a large quantity because once they start
getting high[, ] they can't control it and they will
die." According to Clarke, a "pretty bad user"
would probably use "close to a gram a day."
Finally, Clarke did not see any smoking devices or other
items associated with using heroin in the room. To the
contrary, "[i]t appeared that they were packaging and
on Fowler's assurance that she had electronically
disabled the key card reader on the door to Room 404, Young
returned to his patrol duties, and Brooks accompanied Fowler
to the front desk to await the return of the room's
occupants and the search warrant. While Brooks waited, Fowler
monitored the video surveillance equipment. She saw three
people enter Room 404 together despite her belief that she
had disabled the key card reader. Once the room had been
compromised, Officer Brooks went to the room and waited
outside the door for backup.
Brooks waited, Donald Nicholson, one of the people inside the
room, opened the door and discovered Brooks. The officer saw
the appellant and a woman inside the room. Brooks identified
himself as a police officer and ordered the three occupants
to get on the ground. Despite Brooks' instructions, the
appellant, aided by Nicholson, grabbed the suspected heroin
and rushed into the bathroom with it. Brooks heard the sound
of the toilet flushing. The appellant and Nicholson then
returned to the room. Nicholson complied with Brooks'
order to get on the ground, but the appellant grabbed the
marijuana, ran into the bathroom, and also flushed it down
the toilet before Brooks was able to activate his taser and
restrain the appellant.
subsequently searched the hotel room pursuant to a warrant.
In the course of the search, they found the digital scale,
which bore heroin and cocaine residue. They also seized a
plastic bag containing heroin residue and a baggy corner
containing 0.3570 gram of cocaine. Additionally, they
discovered two commercially labeled packets of the drug
Suboxone. Finally, in a search of the appellant incident to
arrest, Young found $2, 038 in cash.
to the appellant's trial, he sought to suppress the
evidence. He contended that it was obtained as a result of an
unreasonable search when the officers initially entered the
hotel room without a search warrant. He also argued that the
evidence obtained later, when they searched pursuant to a
warrant, was tainted by the earlier search. The trial judge
ruled that the appellant had a reasonable expectation of
privacy in the ...