You and your friend decide to go on vacation to Florida together. You fly to Ford Lauderdale, and your friend rents a car. It’s cheaper if you only put one driver on the rental contract, so you agree to keep yourself off of it.
But then one night you go out to a club, and your friend has way too much to drink–she’s in no position to drive back to the hotel. You’re still sober, so she gives you the keys. However, on the way back, a cop pulls you over.
Once he determines you’re not an authorized driver of the rental car, he decides to search your car–and in the back seat, he finds an ounce of marijuana. Suddenly, what started as a responsible sober ride turns into a night in jail.
The question is, did the officer have the right to search your car in the first place? According to a recent Supreme Court decision, the answer is “no.” If the authorized driver of a rental car gives you permission to use it–even if you’re not listed on the rental contract–you are still considered to have “lawful possession and control” of the car. As such, you have the right to exclude others from searching the property.
The ruling from this case has important implications on our Fourth Amendment rights in a wide variety of traffic-related criminal defense cases. Even if you’re not the authorized owner or renter of a vehicle, simply having permission to drive from that person can be sufficient to give you a reasonable expectation of privacy.