Drug deals and other crimes sometimes take place in public restrooms. May the police look into a restroom stall to observe a crime being committed? (See more below.)
When the police use searches or surveillance techniques that raise Fourth Amendment concerns, and initial question that must be answered is Did the person claiming the protection of the Fourth Amendment have a reasonable expectation of privacy that was invaded by the police actions?
Consider the following examples and explain whether you think the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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This depends to some degree on the circumstances. Courts have held in the past that police may at times look into a stall in a public restroom (or into the sort of public restroom that has only one toilet and a door) without violating the occupant (or occupants') expectation of privacy.
In the case of United States v. Hill, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a couple had no expectation of privacy when they entered a one toilet bathroom together. This was based on the fact of their suspicious action (entering a one-toilet bathroom together) in an area in which prostitution was common. Through their suspicious behavior, the court ruled, they gave up their expectation of privacy.
In general, police cannot simply look into restroom stalls. But suspicious activity can work to negate the expectation of privacy.
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