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As the U.S. Supreme Court winds down its term, every June and October, a flurry of opinions is typically released. This June was no exception. One case, in particular, touched on an issue that has been addressed by the Court in previous matters – an individual’s expectation of privacy, particularly from searches by the government.

Such an expectation varies according to the circumstance – trash left on the curb for pickup, for example, is accorded no expectation of privacy, and can be accessed by law enforcement without a warrant – and an attorney experienced in criminal defense lawyer can help combat warrantless searches if the circumstance demands it. In this instance, the Court held that, even though one is not listed as the authorized driver on a rental vehicle agreement, he/she still has an expectation of privacy just as if he/she was the authorized driver.

A discussion of this recent Supreme Court case, as well as how it may be applied going forward, will follow below.

Privacy in Rental Car

The Fourth Amendment’s Expectation of Privacy

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally prohibits warrantless searches and seizures. However, case law has diluted this prohibition to, as stated above, various circumstances. Prior to this holding, most federal courts have held that a driver whose name is not listed on the rental contract does not have any right to challenge a search of that vehicle.

Unanimously, however, the Court rejected that viewpoint and maintained that one who has lawful possession and control of a vehicle will generally have an expectation of privacy. The Court specifically made the analogy that if a friend allowed another friend to drive his/her vehicle (or, pointed to a previous case, if a person is permitted to stay at a friend’s apartment), the driver (or the apartment dweller) would have an expectation of privacy.

Further, in this case, the Court noted that the fact that one is not on the rental contract is not, per se, illegal (the contract did not specify that such an act would void the agreement). Consequently, lawful possession of a rental vehicle would be if the rental company, or, in this case, the rentee, allowed the individual to operate the vehicle.

Even if the rental contract did indicate that the agreement would be void, the Court seemed to imply that this fact was irrelevant, as the agreement is actually about risk allocation of the rental vehicle, and not necessarily an effort to block someone from allowing another person to drive it.

Expectations of Privacy in Rental Car

Effect of the Holding

At first glance, it would seem that the effect of this holding is clear when it is applied to situations just like the one at issue. However, it is important to note that the Court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine if any exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless searches and/or seizures would apply (ex. consent, plain view, stop and frisk, or vehicle with probable cause).

Consequently, the Petitioner is not out of the woods just yet. Nevertheless, the holding does give some guidance – if no exception applies, then the fact that one is not listed on the rental agreement as an authorized driver does not destroy his/her expectation of privacy.

Hire A Criminal Defense Attorney

While the Supreme Court case discussed in this post is somewhat narrow, if you have been charged with a crime in which you believe law enforcement may have searched your person or your effects improperly, and potentially violated your rights, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. If indeed, evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the attorneys at our office will use their skill to argue against its introduction at trial.

Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.

Shaheen Manshoory
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