Picture yourself driving a rental car that was rented by your friend or a family member. You are then pulled over by the police. The police want to search the vehicle. Do you let them? Do you even have a choice?
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week gave us clear answers. This Country’s high court said that people who borrow rental cars from family or friends are generally entitled to the same protections against police searches as the actual authorized driver who rented the vehicle.
The decision was unanimous. If a person is in lawful possession and control of the rental car they are deemed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car, even if the rental agreement doesn’t list them as an authorized driver. Therefore, the police will have to have probable cause of a crime committed or a warrant to search the car.
The argument by the current administration was that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy of an unauthorized driver in a borrowed car. Therefore, police could search it without the unauthorized driver’s consent. Attorneys who argued against the search stated that around 115 million car rentals occur each year in the United States. And if the government wins their argument, police would be given an incentive to pull over a rental car driver who commits a traffic violation because they would know they have the right to search it if the driver is not on the rental agreement.
The case involved a driver named Terrence Byrd who in 2014 was driving his fiancée’s rental car on a highway in Pennsylvania. A state trooper stopped him alleging he had committed a minor traffic violation. The troopers observed that Byrd was acting nervously during the stop and he went on to admit that he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The officers then searched the vehicle, telling Byrd that they did not need his consent because his name was not on the authorization form. When they opened the trunk they discovered 2,500 bags of heroin and body armor. Byrd would later admit that he planned to sell the drugs for $7,000. Byrd received a 10-year prison sentence.