A federal appeals court today upheld a lower court’s dismissal of evidence that a Hilton Hotel guest in San Francisco kept an illegal gun in his backpack in his hotel room two years ago.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the guest, Michael Young, had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in his hotel room and was protected by the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches.

A three-judge panel decided by a 2-1 vote that police should have obtained a search warrant before finding the gun and arresting Young on suspicion of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm.

Young was a guest at the hotel on Aug. 5, 2007, when another guest reported the theft of items including a laptop computer from his room.

Hotel staff discovered that Young had accidentally been given a key to the other guest’s room. The staff then searched Young’s room while Young was out and found the gun in his backpack, but not the stolen items.

Early the next morning, a police officer summoned by the staff accompanied Young and hotel security officials to the room and arrested Young after seeing the gun.

The appeals court upheld a trial judge’s decision to bar prosecutors from using evidence of the gun against Young.

The court majority quoted previous court rulings, saying, “The Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures is not limited to one’s home, but also extends to such places as hotel or motel rooms.”

Prosecutors discovered two months later that Young, who had a previous criminal record, had checked into the hotel with a stolen credit card. But the court majority said that fact didn’t affect the case because the hotel staff and police didn’t know that at the time.

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