Court: Search OK if ownership of hotel bags denied

PORTLAND — The state Supreme Court has ruled that a suspect in an identity fraud case cannot claim her privacy was violated when police searched bags she repeatedly claimed did not belong to her.

A woman challenged the warrantless search after police found evidence in the two bags that led to 22 charges of identity theft.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruling Thursday overturned a trial judge who had granted a motion to suppress the evidence based on his finding the woman, Sheena Brown, did not demonstrate she intended to permanently give up possession of the bags.

In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, the court said her intent did not matter because Brown gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy by repeatedly denying the bags were hers.

"There are any number of circumstances in which a person relinquishes privacy interests without doing so permanently," De Muniz wrote.

The bags were seized by police called to a hotel by a suspicious clerk.

Brown was in a room with three other people when police questioned them about two black bags that Brown repeatedly told officers did not belong to her.

Nobody claimed to have rented the room, so they were all told to leave and the bags were left locked inside. A man later returned to say he had rented the room but that Brown had paid for it using a credit card.

The man authorized a search and police found a credit card in the name of "Katrina Ivanov" in one of the bags — the card used to pay for the room. Police also found notebook paper containing handwritten information on identity data for other people, including Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruling also overturned an Oregon Court of Appeals decision that said leaving the bags in a secure hotel room rented by someone Brown knew "was consistent with an intent to maintain a privacy interest in the bags."

The Supreme Court agreed that when officers first arrived, Brown had a constitutionally protected privacy interest in both bags because she owned them, was in possession of them and was in a private room.

But the court said Brown gave up that right when she was given an opportunity to remove the bags and instead abandoned them in a locked room with no access after she "repeatedly and expressly denied that the bags were hers."

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