Memorial Day is coming up, and you and your friends decide to take advantage of the long weekend by taking a road trip to Miami. But when you go to rent a car, you discover it’s a lot more expensive for all of you to be listed as drivers on the rental contract. You’re traveling on a budget, so you agree to let your friend Taylor be the designated driver for the weekend.
You arrive in Miami and quickly get into vacation mode–taking full advantage of the beach, the food and the night life. But one night, you go out dancing, and Taylor has way too much to drink. There’s no way he can drive you back to the hotel. You’ve only had one drink, so he gives you the keys.
On the drive back, however, the police pull you over. When they realize you’re not an authorized driver on the rental contract, they decide to search your car. In the glove compartment, they find a marijuana joint. You were trying to do the responsible thing by offering your friends a sober ride home, but now you’re spending the night in jail–and facing drug charges.
You may think you’re out of luck, but there’s one key question you should ask yourself: did the police officer have the authority to search your car in the first place? The answer is “no.”
According to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, if you’re driving a rental car which the authorized driver gave you permission to use–even if you’re not listed on the rental contract–you can expect the same Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure as anyone else.
The Court found that by driving another person’s vehicle with permission, you are considered to have “lawful possession and control” of the vehicle and thereby have the power to exclude an officer or anyone else from access to it.
This Supreme Court decision has a positive impact on an individual’s right to privacy in a rental car. Any evidence of illicit activity that was discovered as a result of an unlawful search would not be permissible in court. This ruling can create a powerful advantage for a defendant.