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Byrd v. United States, 584 U.S. (2018)

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

No. 16–1371. Argued January 9, 2018—Decided May 14, 2018

Latasha Reed rented a car in New Jersey while petitioner Terrence Byrd waited outside the rental facility. Her signed agreement warned that permitting an unauthorized driver to drive the car would violate the agreement. Reed listed no additional drivers on the form, but she gave the keys to Byrd upon leaving the building. He stored personal belongings in the rental car’s trunk and then left alone for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After stopping Byrd for a traffic infraction, Pennsylvania State Troopers learned that the car was rented, that Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver, and that Byrd had prior drug and weapons convictions. Byrd also stated he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The troopers proceeded to search the car, discovering body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk. The evidence was turned over to federal authorities, who charged Byrd with federal drug and other crimes. The District Court denied Byrd’s motion to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search, and the Third Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, because Byrd was not listed on the rental agreement, he lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car.


1. 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 or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy. Pp. 6–13.

(a) Reference to property concepts is instructive in “determining the presence or absence of the privacy interests protected by [the Fourth] Amendment.”  Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U. S. 128, 144, n. 12. Pp. 6–7.

(b) While a person need not always have a recognized common-law property interest in the place searched to be able to claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in it, see, e.g., Jones v. United States, 362 U. S. 257, 259, legitimate presence on the premises, standing alone, is insufficient because it “creates too broad a gauge for measurement of Fourth Amendment rights,” Rakas, 439 U. S., at 142. The Court has not set forth a single metric or exhaustive list of relevant considerations, but “[l]egitimation of expectations of privacy must have a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.”  Id., at 144, n. 12. These concepts may be linked. “One of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others,” and “one who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude.”  Ibid. This general property-based concept guides resolution of the instant case. Pp. 8–9.

(c) The Government’s contention that drivers who are not listed on rental agreements always lack an expectation of privacy in the car rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections. But Byrd’s proposal that a rental car’s sole occupant always has an expectation of privacy based on mere possession and control would, without qualification, include thieves or others who have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Pp. 9–13.

(1) The Government bases its claim that an unauthorized driver has no privacy interest in the vehicle on a misreading of Rakas.  There, the Court disclaimed any intent to hold that passengers cannot have an expectation of privacy in automobiles, but found that the passengers there had not claimed “any legitimate expectation of privacy in the areas of the car which were searched.” 439 U. S., at 150, n. 17. Byrd, in contrast, was the rental car’s driver and sole occupant. His situation is similar to the defendant in Jones, who had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his friend’s apartment because he “had complete dominion and control over the apartment and could exclude others from it.”  Rakas, supra, at 149. The expectation of privacy that comes from lawful possession and control and the attendant right to exclude should not differ depending on whether a car is rented or owned by someone other than the person currently possessing it, much as it did not seem to matter whether the defendant’s friend in Jones owned or leased the apartment he permitted the defendant to use in his absence. Pp. 9–11.

(2) The Government also contends that Byrd had no basis for claiming an expectation of privacy in the rental car because his driving of that car was so serious a breach of Reed’s rental agreement that the rental company would have considered the agreement “void” once he took the wheel. But the contract says only that the violation may result in coverage, not the agreement, being void and the renter’s being fully responsible for any loss or damage, and the Government fails to explain what bearing this breach of contract, standing alone, has on expectations of privacy in the car. Pp. 11–12.

(3) Central, though, to reasonable expectations of privacy in these circumstances is the concept of lawful possession, for a “ ‘wrongful’ presence at the scene of a search would not enable a defendant to object to the legality of the search,” Rakas, supra, at 141, n. 9. Thus, a car thief would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen car no matter the degree of possession and control. The Court leaves for remand the Government’s argument that one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime is no better situated than a car thief. Pp. 12–13.

2. Also left for remand is the Government’s argument that, even if Byrd had a right to object to the search, probable cause justified it in any event. The Third Circuit did not reach this question because it concluded, as an initial matter, that Byrd lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car. That court has discretion as to the order in which the remanded questions are best addressed. Pp. 13–14.

679 Fed. Appx. 146, vacated and remanded.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Gorsuch, J., joined. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion.