The Supreme Court has agreed to review an important case concerning the applicability of the Fourth Amendment in the rental car context. In order for Fourth Amendment protections to apply, a defendant “must demonstrate that he personally has an expectation of privacy in the place searched, and that his expectation is reasonable.” In Byrd v. United States, the Supreme Court will decide whether a driver has 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. In the criminal case below, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence resulting from the stop and search of Defendant’s rental car and found that Defendant had “no expectation of privacy [in the rental car] because he was not listed on the rental agreement.” Byrd appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The Court determined that “such a person [in Byrd’s position] has no expectation of privacy and therefore no standing to challenge a search of the vehicle.”
Whether a driver has 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.
This case arises from a stop and search of Defendant’s rental car in 2014. Defendant Terrence Byrd’s girlfriend and mother of his children, Latasha Reed, rented a car. The rental agreement provided that only the renter, the renter’s spouse, co-employee, or a person who appears at the time of the rental and signs an additional form may use the vehicle. Byrd was not listed on the agreement but Reed gave him permission to use the vehicle. Furthermore, Byrd was the only person to drive the vehicle. Later in the day while Byrd was driving the vehicle, he was pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper conducted a computerized search of Byrd’s information and discovered a “nonextraditable out-of-state warrant for a nonviolent crime.”
The trooper direct Byrd out of the vehicle and after asking for permission to search the car, subsequently informed Byrd that because his name was not listed on the rental agreement, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle. Upon searching the vehicle, the trooper found heroin and a bullet-proof vest in the drunk.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Following his indictment, defendant Byrd moved to suppress evidence resulting from the search of the rental car, arguing that the evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion, rejecting the constitutional argument. Applying Third Circuit precedent, the court found that Byrd had no expectation of privacy in the rental car because he was not listed on the rental agreement and did not pay for the rental. Defendant subsequently pled guilty to the charges in the indictment but reserved the right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. He subsequently appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings. The Court of Appeals noticed that “[a] circuit split exists as to whether the sole occupant of the rental vehicle has a Fourth Amendment expectation or privacy” when he has the renter’s permission to drive but is not listed in the rental agreement. The court ultimately found that Byrd’s case was controlled by the Third Circuit’s decision in United States v. Kennedy, 638 F.3d 159 (3rd Cir. 2011).
In Kennedy, the Third Circuit determined that drivers not listed in the rental agreement have no “cognizable property interest” in rental vehicles, which subsequently deprives them from an “accompanying right to exclude.” Furthermore, the Court found that “society generally does not share or recognize an expectation of privacy for those who have gained possession and control over a rental vehicles they have borrowed without the permission of the rental company.” Based on these observations, the Third Circuit found that “the driver of a rental car who has been lent the car by the renter, but who is not listed on the rental agreement as an authorized driver, lacks a legitimate expectation of privacy in the car unless there exist extraordinary circumstances suggesting an expectation of privacy.” The Third Circuit cited to Kennedy in finding that Byrd had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car in this case.
Supreme Court of the United States
On March 11, 2017, Byrd filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. Byrd argued that the Third Circuit’s holding would enable police to search a rental vehicle at any time it is operated by an unlisted driver, without any particular suspicion or criminal activity or a court-issued warrant.
EPIC has an interest in promoting privacy by upholding robust Fourth Amendment protections. EPIC has filed many amicus curiae briefs in Supreme Court, Federal Court, and State cases related to upholding Fourth Amendment rights. For instance, EPIC filed an amicus brief in Riley v. California, a Supreme Court case concerning whether officers can search a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant during an arrest. EPIC argued that the warrantless search of a cell-phone provides access to sensitive personal data, and current available techniques are already available for law enforcement to secure cell phone data pending a court’s determination of probable cause.
EPIC also filed an amicus brief in United States v. Jones, a Supreme Court case concerning the warrantless use of a tracking device and whether the attachment and use of a GPS device to a car to monitor a person’s movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment. EPIC argued that GPS tracking is an invasive technique that collects and stores a large amount of personal information about a person’s movements. Absent a warrant, law enforcement use of this device threatens Fourth Amendment protections.
EPIC also filed an amicus brief in Tolentino v. New York, a Supreme Court case questioning whether the Fourth Amendment requires a court to suppress evidence of a driver’s suspended license when the police obtained that evidence after an illegal search. EPIC argued that the evidence should be suppressed, stating that “the risk is real that car stops will increasingly become pretextual because of the opportunity to search a government database for data unrelated to the reason that gave rise to the original stop.” The Supreme Court dismissed the case as improvidently granted.