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Can the police search a rental vehicle without your consent?

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If you've ever rented a car, or plan to do so in the future, it's a good idea to know your rights as a driver when it comes to the police. When you rent a car, the rental company must authorize who is able to drive the car. But what happens if you're pulled over and you aren't an authorized driver? Do you forfeit your rights to refuse a search by the police?


Unable to say 'no'

In 2014, Terrence Byrd was pulled over in a rental vehicle that his girlfriend let him drive. During the traffic stop, officers informed Byrd that they were going to conduct a search of the car. Byrd refused to consent to a search, but the police stated that he could not refuse a search as an unauthorized driver of the car. Upon searching the vehicle, police found heroin in the trunk. Byrd was ultimately sentenced to 120 months on drug charges.

The Supreme Court weighs in

Byrd's attorney has appealed his case all the way up to the Supreme Court where the Justices heard oral arguments on it earlier this month. The Court faces a decision on the privacy rights that individuals have as unauthorized drivers of rental cars. Byrd's attorney urged the court to suppress the evidence that was discovered because it was seized during an unlawful search.

It appears that more than one of the justices agrees with the defense attorney. Justice Sotomayor stated that ruling in favor of the government would authorize police "to stop every rental car and search every rental car, without probable cause." She questioned whether searches like these would give police too much power and violate every person's fundamental Fourth Amendment rights. If that were the case, then every unauthorized rental driver would forfeit their constitutional rights when they're behind the wheel.

The justices will weigh both sides of the arguments before they issue their opinion later this year. The decision is expected to clarify an individual's Fourth Amendment rights regarding searches of rental vehicles.

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