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Drivers of rental cars entitled to privacy, Supreme Court rules

Pennsylvania residents who borrow a rental car from a family member or friend should be aware that, according to a Supreme Court decision, they are entitled to the same protections against illegal police searches. This decision, which was handed down on May 14, came after the Trump administration argued that those not named on a rental agreement should be able to be searched without the person's consent.

The associated case that the justices were ruling on dates back to 2014 when a man was pulled over while driving a rental car for an alleged minor traffic violation. It was reported that he told authorities that he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The authorities eventually decided to search the vehicle, stating that they did not need the man's consent because he was not listed on the rental agreement. They reportedly found about 2,500 bags of heroin and he was ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted on the resulting charges.

The case was ultimately sent back to a lower court, though the justices did ask the court to consider the man's ability to rent in his name in the first place due to his past criminal history. The justices also asked the court to consider whether or not the authorities had probable cause to pull the vehicle over in the first place.

Authorities in Pennsylvania must have probable cause or a warrant to search a vehicle. The ruling means that this is true even if an unauthorized driver is driving a rental vehicle. If a person is taken into custody and is facing a criminal charge, a criminal defense attorney could potentially seek to have the associated charges dismissed if there is evidence that the authorities violated the accused person's rights or if they did not have probable cause.

Source: WTOP, "Supreme Court greenlights driver rights in rental car case", May 14, 2018

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