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St. Louis (AP)—A man found partly disrobed with a woman, cocaine and marijuana, in the one-person restroom of an Iowa convenience store in an area known for prostitution had no absolute right to privacy, an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel has ruled. United States v. Hill, No. 04-2020. The court unanimously rejected Lonnie Maurice Hill’s claim that the police breached his Fourth Amendment right to privacy, making the drugs illegally seized and unusable as evidence. Other courts have held that the right of privacy in bathrooms varies case to case, with some judges holding that a stall in a public restroom is not a private place when used for something other than its intended purpose. “The Fourth Amendment protects people and not places,” Judge Donald Lay wrote for the three-judge 8th Circuit panel. In Hill’s case, “it was not a single person using the single toilet rest room but two persons of opposite gender and, under the circumstances, we hold that they had a diminished expectation of privacy which had expired by the time the officers arrived.” When it comes to restroom privacy, “we have never held that this expectation lasts indefinitely,” Lay wrote. The 8th Circuit also cited legal precedent finding that an expectation of privacy in businesses “is different from, and indeed less than, a similar expectation in an individual’s home.” Such cases, Lay wrote, “recognize that regardless of one’s subjective expectation of privacy in a public rest room,” society’s recognition of that expectation is limited by the bathroom’s design, location and “the probability that one will be asked to surrender use of the rest room to others.” Hill was arrested in 2003 after a convenience store clerk in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called police to report suspicious activity by a man and woman entering the site’s small, one-person rest room for use by either gender. The police responded within minutes. Inside, they found a small bag of marijuana and two clear baggies of cocaine, along with a metal scale. Hill was indicted on drug-related charges. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months behind bars. Lay wrote that “Hill and his female companion occupied the rest room in a manner for which it was not designed . . . .Under these circumstances, we hold that whatever reasonable expectation of privacy Hill and his companion had expired by the time the officers arrived.”

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