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Supreme Court ruling protects rental car borrowers' rights

A May 2018 Supreme Court ruling could be important for protecting the rights of people in Maryland when driving a borrowed rental car. In a ruling, the high court said that people who drive a rental car with permission from the authorized driver have the same protections from searches by police as the original rental. The unanimous decision affirmed that people who are in lawful possession of a rental car have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even when they are not listed on the rental car agreement as an authorized driver.

This means that police need probable cause or a search warrant in order to search the car, rejecting the assertion of the Department of Justice that people in this situation did not have an expectation of privacy. The government sought to hold a person in this position in the same situation as that of a car thief. The court noted in the ruling that there are many reasons why a person may allow another person to drive their rental car without being listed, including when the primary driver is ill, drunk or drowsy.

Criminal defense attorneys noted that over 115 million car rentals take place each year across the country and argued that police would have an extra incentive to pull over known rental cars if the government's arguments were approved by the court. The ruling came in the 2014 case of one man who was pulled over while driving a car rented by his fiancee for a minor traffic violation who was found to have drugs during a search.

Vehicle searches can be a major factor in drug possession and other criminal cases. People who are facing charges based on a vehicle search might decide to work with a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer may be able to help accused defendants to challenge police evidence and practice that violate a person's civil rights.

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