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May 14, 2018

Supreme Court Decides Byrd v. United States

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Byrd v. United States, No. 16-1371, holding that under the Fourth Amendment, the driver of a rental car may challenge the search of that car by law enforcement even if the driver is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental car agreement.

While petitioner Terrance Byrd waited in the parking lot, Latasha Reed rented a car from a Budget car rental office in Wayne, New Jersey. Reed rented the car in her own name and did not list Byrd as an additional driver on the rental agreement. After she rented the car, Reed gave the keys to Byrd, who departed in the rental car alone and headed towards Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Police outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania pulled over the car driven by Byrd for a possible traffic violation. A search based on Byrd’s identification revealed that Byrd had prior convictions for weapons and drug charges and had an outstanding warrant in New Jersey for a probation violation. Officers sought Byrd’s consent to search the vehicle, although they stated they did not need his consent because he was not listed on the rental agreement. When they searched the vehicle, the officers found a laundry bag filled with body armor and 49 bricks of heroin.

The district court denied Byrd’s motion to suppress the evidence found during the search. The Third Circuit affirmed on the ground that the sole driver of a rental car has no Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy when the driver is not named in the rental agreement, and therefore lacks standing to challenge the search of the vehicle.

The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Third Circuit. It held that the 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. In general, a person who lawfully possesses or controls property will have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude others from that property. The Court held that the legitimate expectation of privacy that stems from lawful possession and control of a rental car should not differ depending on whether a car is rented or owned by someone other than the person currently possessing it.

The Court remanded to the Third Circuit for consideration of whether Byrd unlawfully possessed the car because it was rented and used to commit a crime, as well as whether, even if Byrd had a right to object to the search, the search was in any event justified by probable cause. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion.

Download Opinion of the Court.

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