This week, following a minor vehicle accident, I decided to write this short article focused on rental car and the expectation of privacy pertaining to the concept of illegal search and seizure. Most of us will have to rent a car at some point in our lives. My first job out of college was actually working for a rental car company! Renting a car is sometimes as stressful as the accident or worrying about a vacation to a new place. While renting a car can be stressful, not understanding your constitutional rights as they pertain to a rental car is even worse
Our law firm represents individuals charged with different crimes and offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. While our firm is based in Philadelphia, we have represented accused individuals throughout these 2 states for over a decade. In many of these cases one of our strongest arguments is a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence based on the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or Article 1, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Remember that while the US Constitution protects all citizens against illegal search and seizure so do all state constitution.
The Illegal Search Of Car or Vehicle vs. Home
I’ve written on previous occasions that there is a substantial difference between the search of a home and a vehicle. A home search, in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, almost always requires a search warrant unless the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of evidence some type of exigent circumstances. A vehicle, however, isn’t treated the same way under the law. In most instances police can perform a warrantless search of an automobile. Warrantless searches are constitutional if police can establish probable cause that evidence of a crime exists within a car or vehicle. This was not always the case in Pennsylvania but following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Gary, Pennsylvania now allows these types of searches. Keep in mind that during a motion to suppress, the burden isn’t guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but a by a preponderance of evidence.
There Is A Lower Expectation of Privacy In A Vehicle – Exceptions
Warrantless searches are permissible because courts have ruled that a person has a lower expectation of privacy in a vehicle as opposed to a house. While warrantless searches are allowed, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception, which permits these intrusions to a person’s privacy, does not pertain to vehicle searches which occur if the car is parked in a person’s driveway or along the curtilage (surrounding property) of a person’s home. The Supreme Court, in the decision of Collins v. Virginia (2018), specifically stated that the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement not only applies to a person’s home but to a vehicle located on the grounds of the person’s home.
In Philadelphia and the surrounding suburban counties, many of our clients are arrested following a traffic stop. There are also situations, however, where police attempt to search a car based on anonymous tips from alleged concerned citizens in the area. If you’re charged with a crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, your criminal lawyer must evaluate the place of the search to determine whether or not it falls in or out of the automobile exception to the constitution.
Rental Cars & Your Expectation Of Privacy
While there is a lower expectation of privacy in a person’s vehicle, that expectation does exist. Prosecutors and district attorneys have attempted to argue that there is no expectation of privacy if the person does not have ownership in the actual vehicle. The US Supreme Court has ruled that a driver in the lawful possession or control of a rental car may challenge the search of that vehicle even if he or she isn’t the authorized driver or on the rental agreement based on a reasonable expectation of privacy which is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Consent & Your Constitutional Right Against Illegal Search & Seizure
You should never assume that these constitutional rights do not apply to your situation. I always advise clients never to give consent to police to search a home, vehicle, or place of business. Consent will negate all constitutional rights and make it very difficult for your criminal lawyer to win your case. While providing consent will not necessarily mean that you will lose your criminal case, it does place it in a far worse condition.
Why A Motion To Suppress Is So Important
A motion to suppress evidence is not only a strong defensive tool for your criminal lawyer in a case pertaining to illegal drugs, guns, and other weapons but also in drunk driving (DUI/DWI). A successful motion will exclude the evidence and make it virtually impossible for the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, prosecution will withdraw the case based on a successful motion.
If you’ re charged with a drug crime or a crime involving a gun, always hire a criminal lawyer and make sure that this attorney can properly explain to you the concept of a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence and trial alternatives in the event that the motion is not successful.