15:09, May 14 34 0 abajournal.com

2018-05-14 15:09:04
Unauthorized rental-car driver generally has privacy rights in police search, Supreme Court rules

A driver of a rental car who isn’t listed on the rental agreement generally retains a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment when police seek to search the car, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the unanimous opinion in the case of Terrence Byrd, who was pulled over for a traffic stop in Pennsylvania while driving a rental car. Police officers had asserted they didn’t need his consent for a search because he wasn’t listed on the rental car agreement. They discovered 49 bricks of heroin and body armor in the trunk during the September 2014 search.

Byrd’s girlfriend had rented the car, then turned over the keys to Byrd. A state trooper who spotted Byrd later in the day believed Byrd looked suspicious because he was driving with his hands at the “10 and 2” position on the steering wheel, was sitting far back from the steering wheel, and was driving a rental car. The trooper followed Byrd, then pulled him over for a possible traffic infraction.

Byrd appeared nervous. A computer search showed Byrd had prior convictions for weapons and drug charges, and an outstanding arrest warrant in New Jersey for a probation violation. Officers conducted the search without Byrd’s approval.

The government had argued that any rental car driver who is not listed on the rental agreement is not protected by the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Byrd’s lawyers, on the other hand, had argued that the driver of a rental car always has an expectation of privacy based on mere possession and control of the vehicle. Both arguments go too far, Kennedy said.

The mere fact that a person isn’t listed on the rental agreement should not defeat his reasonable expectation of privacy, Kennedy said. But a thief driving a rental car has no expectation of privacy, he said.

Kennedy remanded the case to consider two government arguments.

First, the government had argued that Byrd had no greater expectation of privacy than a car thief because he intentionally used a third party to rent the car, knowing he would not be allowed to rent it on his own. The argument was not raised in the courts below, and the case should be remanded to develop the facts and consider the issue, Kennedy said.

The government also argued that police had probable cause to search the car even if Byrd did have a Fourth Amendment privacy interest. The appeals court had not reached that issue, however, and it should also be addressed on remand, Kennedy said.

The case is Byrd v. United States.

Related article:

ABAJournal.com: “Chemerinsky: A quartet of Fourth Amendment cases to watch”