The Supreme Court appeared to lean in favor of upholding privacy rights for people not listed as authorized drivers on rental car agreements after a case hearing Tuesday.
The case involves Terrence Byrd, who was pulled over by a Pennsylvania state trooper in 2014. Byrd was driving a rental car from Budget, signed under his fiancee's name. Because Byrd was not authorized to drive the vehicle, the officer searched the car, finding 49 bricks of heroin.
Several Supreme Court justices echoed sentiments that while an unlisted driver may breach the conditions of a rental agreement, even if the listed person gives permission to the driver, that does not necessarily mean that the police may search a rental vehicle without the driver's consent.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that allowing police to search rental vehicles with unlisted drivers would subject all rental cars to a stop without probable cause.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted that renters giving others permission to drive a rental vehicle was not particularly unusual. Some justices also said that other violations of a rental agreement do not result in a driver forfeiting constitutional protections.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy argued that Byrd made a decision to remain off the listing, and that Byrd's fiancee put her name on the agreement so Byrd would not be tied to the vehicle.
The justices discussed whether it would have made a difference if Budget included a provision stating that unlisted drivers may be subjected to searches by law enforcement. Robert M. Loeb, Byrd's lawyer, said that the trooper may have had the authority if he had contacted Budget and the company gave permission to search the vehicle.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested that the Fourth Amendment protections remain for any unlisted driver, provided that the driver has not stolen the vehicle or committed a crime by driving it.
The Supreme Court did not indicate a timeline for its final ruling in the case.