Rental cars and the Fourth Amendment: are you safe?
The Supreme Court of the United States will decide an interesting issue: does a driver have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car when he has the renter's permission to drive the car but is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement? The case is Byrd v. United States. This case could have a huge effect on how police stop drivers in rental cars.
This case involves a man who was pulled over by a New Jersey state trooper for a minor traffic violation. The troopers discovered that the car they stopped was a rental car, and that the driver was not the person who signed the rental car agreement. The troopers proceeded to search the car. They found 49 bricks of heroin and a flak jacket in the trunk.
The driver challenged the search, claiming that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the trooper violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The driver further argued that the person who signed the rental car agreement, his fiancee, gave him permission to drive the car. The fact that his fiancee gave him consent to drive the car, the driver argued, meant that the troopers could not search the car unless they had a warrant or probable cause to believe that he was violating the law. The government countered that the driver had no Fourth Amendment rights when he was driving a rental car when his name was not listed on the rental car agreement. In other words, the government contended that the driver had no reasonable expectation of privacy while driving the car and the troopers acted within the bounds of the law. Therefore, the government argued, the troopers were allowed to search the car.