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Privacy Rights and Car Rental Agreements-U.S. Supreme Court Hands Down a Win for Privacy

Posted Monday, May 14, 2018 by Andrew Charles Huff

The U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that some who rents a car does not automatically have diminished privacy rights if their name isn’t on the rental agreement.

The unanimous opinion is a victory for privacy rights advocates who were concerned that police could find reasons to stop rental car drivers for minor infractions knowing that they could engage in searches without the driver’s consent.

The case dates back to 2014, when Terrence Byrd was stopped by police for a minor traffic infraction. Police noticed that he appeared nervous, and when they asked him for the rental agreement for the car, his name was not listed as a permissive driver.The officers said they did not need to consent to a search of his car, because his name was not listed on the rental agreement and as an unauthorized driver he had no reasonable expectation of privacy. Police ended up finding drugs in his trunk.

Byrd’s lawyer moved to suppress the evidence against him, arguing the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. He noted that Byrd had the permission of his girlfriend, whose name was on the agreement, to rent the car.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “the mere fact that a driver is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.”

This decision closes an important gap in Fourth Amendment issues by clarifying that a driver of a rental car who is not on the rental agreement does not automatically lose the protections other drivers would have during a traffic stop.

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