In the final episode of the seventh season of “Entourage” entitled “Lose Yourself,” which aired Sunday, September 13, 2010, the character Vincent Chase spirals out of control through drug use and alcohol abuse.  After a season of self-destructive behavior, Vince ends up in the hospital being treated for injuries sustained in a fight at a hotel.  As he attempts to leave the hospital, the investigating officer, who is present to take his statement concerning the fight, discovers a bag of cocaine in Vince’s hospital room and confronts Vince about it.

The officer’s discovery raises the question of whether the discovery of the drugs is the result of an illegal search. Since we do not know why the officer is in Vince’s hospital room rather than in the corridor or the waiting room, and we do not know how he discovers the drugs, we don’t know whether the search and seizure is legal.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against illegal search and seizures.  In Katz v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a search occurs when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a thing and society considers that expectation reasonable.  A hospital room is generally considered to be a place with that expectation of privacy. There is no indication that Vince is in custody based upon his ability to leave the room at the beginning of the scene.  This also hints that the officer was invited into the room.  According to Terry v. Ohio, an officer is permitted to conduct a limited search if he witnesses  unusual conduct or there is indication of criminal activity.  The extent of a search is also limited to the activity which is directly associated with the unusual activity.

Vince’s actions at the party, including starting a fight after he was asked to leave, would not indicate sufficient suspicious behavior.  Although Vince was clearly drunk, his actions would not have spurred the reasonable suspicion requirement of the officer to justify a frisk or search that could have resulted in the discovery of the narcotics.  As stated earlier, there is also no indication Vince was in custody, which also may have justified a search.

In order for the officer to discover the narcotics legally, they must be in plain sight.  Vince wore a jacket at the hotel. However, he emerged from the hospital room without that jacket.  It is likely that he removed the jacket in the hospital room.  When Vince removed the jacket,  the drugs could have fallen out of a pocket.  If the drugs were discovered in a series of events similar to those described, the procurement of the evidence is subject to the plain view doctrine which the Court established in Horton v. California.  If the officer is legally in the room and the narcotics fell out of a jacket pocket through Vince’s normal movement, the officer would also have legal access to the object.  When the officer displayed the drugs to Vince,  it was also clear that they were an illegal substance satisfying the third requirement of the doctrine.

At the time of Vince’s exit from the hospital room, there is no indication that he is in custody.  There is also no indication that the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct a search within the hospital room.  The officer’s presence in the room seems to be lawful based upon Vince’s body language and nonchalant manner in exiting the room.  It seems that the officer’s seizure of the narcotics are subject to the plain view doctrine.

« »