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Name: Byrd v. U.S.
Case #: 16-1371
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/14/2018
Subsequent History: 138 S.Ct. 1518

The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy as to the contents of the vehicle. Byrd was pulled over by Pennsylvania State Troopers while driving alone in a rental car. When the troopers learned Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver in the rental agreement, they searched the car without his consent and found body armor and drugs in the trunk. Byrd was charged with a federal drug offense and unlawful possession of body armor. He moved to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search. The district court denied the motion and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded Byrd lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car because he was not listed on the rental agreement and therefore lacked standing to challenge the search. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split as to whether an unauthorized driver has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car. Held: Reversed and remanded. A person claiming a Fourth Amendment violation must show that his own rights were infringed by the search and seizure he wishes to challenge, which requires an examination of whether the person had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the premises searched. After analyzing relevant Fourth Amendment case law, the Court held “that, as a general rule, someone in otherwise lawful possession and control of a rental car has a reasonable expectation of privacy in it even if the rental agreement does not list him or her as an authorized driver.” The Court saw “no reason why the expectation of privacy that comes from lawful possession and control and the attendant right to exclude would differ depending on whether the car in question is rented or privately owned by someone other than the person in current possession of it . . . .”

Breach of the rental agreement did not defeat defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car. The Government argued that Byrd lacked an expectation of privacy because his driving the rental car violated and “voided” the rental agreement his friend signed when she rented the car. The Court disagreed, observing that rental agreements are filled with long lists of restrictions, such as driving with a handheld phone, which have nothing to do with a driver’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the car. Here, the provision at issue provided that permitting an unauthorized driver to operate the car would result in loss of insurance coverage through the rental agreement. For purposes of the Fourth Amendment, there is no meaningful difference between the authorized-driver provision of the contract and provisions that the Government agreed did not eliminate an expectation of privacy.

Remand is necessary to address whether defendant had lawful possession of the rental car. The Court remanded for consideration of the government’s argument that Byrd’s expectation of privacy was no greater than a car thief because he intentionally used a third party to procure the rental car for the purpose of committing a crime. (See Rakas v. Illinois (1978) 439 U.S. 128, 141 fn. 9.) It was also necessary to remand the case to determine whether, even if Byrd had a right to object to the search, probable cause justified the search.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: