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Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States extended privacy protections against unlawful searches in rental cars. Justice Kennedy authored the unanimous opinion in Byrd v. United States and held that a driver of a rental car – who has the renter’s permission to drive – has a reasonable expectation of privacy against government searches of the vehicle.[1]

Basic Facts

The cops pulled over Terrance Byrd for a minor traffic infraction. Upon the officer’s approach, he struggled to provide the officers with proper identification and the vehicle’s rental agreement. Byrd was not listed on the agreement but was given permission to drive from the authorized renter. Wanting to search the vehicle for contraband, the officers asked for consent to search. The cops asked for such consent, even though they mistakenly believed they could search the vehicle no matter what, because Byrd was not on the rental agreement. Next, it is disputed whether Byrd gave actual consent to search. But, as you can guess, a search occurred anyway, which resulted in finding heroin and body armor in the trunk. The issue that follows is whether Byrd had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car, which would have required the officers to get a warrant – or have an exception to the warrant requirement – to search the car.

Fourth Amendment Protection

Any person claiming Fourth Amendment protection must have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area to be searched. A “reasonable expectation of privacy” is judged by both an objective and subjective standard (a.k.a. the Katz test). The Kennedy Court determined that both prongs of the Katz test were met in Byrd, because one of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others from said property. In furtherance of this notion, the Court states that one who owns or lawfully possesses the property, will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude. Furthermore, Kennedy opined “[t]he mere fact that a driver in lawful possession . . . of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his . . . expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.” Whether the car is rented or privately owned should not make a difference. Both private ownership or rental ownership supplies the expectation of privacy involving the ultimate right to exclude.

Put Byrd in the column as a win for broadening citizens’ Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable government search and seizures. The backbone of the Fourth Amendment must remain strong if we are to have any expectation of privacy in our persons, places, or things.

Alec Rolain is a law clerk at Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC. He just finished his second year at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul. Prior to law school, Alec attended St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona where he played baseball and made the MIAC all-sportsmanship team. Criminal Defense Lawyer Woodbury MN; DWI Attorney Woodbury; and Drug Crimes Lawyer Woodbury MN.

[1]We recently blogged about the oral arguments in Byrd here.

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