Supreme Court Says Right to Privacy in a Rental Car not Limited to Driver

Police stops make pretty much anyone nervous, but police make mistakes too. Sometimes, the police can try too hard to find a reason to make a stop. Even then, they can push too far and make a search without probable cause. If you cooperate and allow them to search part of your vehicle, they may take the chance to search everything. But what if it is not your car at all, but a rental car? And what if your name is not on the rental agreement? If you do not have an expectation of privacy, then the police can search as much as they want.

In Byrd v. United States, the Supreme Court protected the privacy of “unauthorized” rental car drivers. Latasha Reed, Terrence Byrd’s fiancé, rented a car and allowed Byrd to drive. While on the interstate, a state trooper decided Byrd looked suspicious. According to the trooper, Byrd’s driving with his hands on the 10 and 2 position and sitting far back in his seat was enough to start following him. That, and the fact Byrd was driving a rental car, was basically enough for the trooper to pull him over.

Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver of the car, and the trooper took that as a green light to take things further. After finding out that Byrd had previous drug convictions, the trooper went ahead and searched the car. The search turned up 49 bricks of heroin, and Byrd was charged with federal drug crimes.

The Federal District Court and Court of Appeals both decided that Byrd did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car. According to the lower courts, just not being on the rental agreement was enough to get rid of his right to privacy.  However, the Supreme Court stood up for the right to privacy. They looked first at whether lacking any property rights to the car was enough to not have an expectation of privacy. The Court compared the situation to a guest left alone in an apartment. Like the apartment guest, Byrd had complete control over the inside of the car and could keep people out of it. It did not matter for the guest whether his host rented or leased it, just like with the car.

The Court also considered whether breaking the rental agreement broke the expectation of privacy. The agreement in this case only said that breaking it would end their insurance coverage on the car, not voiding the whole contract. Even so, the Court said that the driver had to lawfully be in possession of the car.

What this means for you is that you have to be a little less nervous when you are driving a rental car. Even if you are not the person who rented it originally, you still have a right to privacy. However, you should always be careful to protect your rights and not give permission for searches unnecessarily.

If you have been in a situation like this threatening your right to privacy, you may need a criminal defense attorney in Alabama. Having an experienced criminal lawyer on your side can make all the difference in your case in Birmingham or elsewhere. If you need a criminal defense lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at 205-335-2640 for help with your case.

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