Can police search a rental car without a warrant or your consent? | Byrd v. United States

In September 2014, Pennsylvania State Troopers pulled over a car driven by petitioner Terrence Byrd. Byrd was the only person in the car. In the course of the traffic stop the troopers learned that the car was rented and that Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement as an authorized driver. For this reason, the troopers told Byrd they did not need his consent to search the car, including its trunk where he had stored personal effects. A search of the trunk uncovered body armor and 49 bricks of heroin.

The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.

(a) Reference to property concepts is instructive in “determining the presence or absence of the privacy interests protected by [the Fourth] Amendment.” Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U. S. 128, 144, n. 12. Pp. 6–7.

(b) While a person need not always have a recognized common-law property interest in the place searched to be able to claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in it, see, e.g., Jones v. United States, 362 U. S. 257, 259, legitimate presence on the premises, standing alone, is insufficient because it “creates too broad a gauge for measurement of Fourth Amendment rights,” Rakas, 439 U. S., at 142. “One of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others,” and “one who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude.” Ibid. This general property-based concept guides resolution of the instant case. Pp. 8–9.

The Court leaves for remand the Government’s argument that one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime is no better situated than a car thief.

Also left for remand is the Government’s argument that, even if Byrd had a right to object to the search, probable cause justified it in any event. The Third Circuit did not reach this question because it concluded, as an initial matter, that Byrd lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car. That court has discretion as to the order in which the remanded questions are best addressed.

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
Full opinion here:

Byrd v. United States, 584 U.S. _ (2018)

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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