Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution states that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes and on their persons. This is primarily due to the fact that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in these locations. However, does the 4th Amendment protect passengers of a car from a search of their possessions?
4th Amendment Protection of Vehicles
Many people believe that since the 4th Amendment protects their home and individual persons, this protection also extends to their vehicles. Unfortunately, this is not true. In a variety of cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that the 4th Amendment does not provide the same level of protection to a car as it does to a house. The Supreme Court has rationalized this due to the high mobility of a motor vehicle, the use of motor vehicles in public places, and the ease in which a car can be used for criminal behavior. As such, a person, including passengers, cannot expect to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a car.
Wyoming v. Houghton
In Wyoming v. Houghton, the Supreme Court considered a case concerning the search of passengers of a vehicle. In the case, police officers pulled over a car for a faulty brake light. While talking to the driver, the police officer noticed a syringe in the driver’s shirt pocket. After the driver admitted to using drugs, the police officers searched the passengers and their possessions, finding methamphetamine. At trial, the passengers challenged the legality of the search and attempted to exclude the drugs found. After hearing the legal arguments and theories of the case, the Supreme Court ruled that as long as there is probable cause, police officers are allowed to search passengers and their possessions (backpacks, purses, etc.) as long as the evidence being searched for could fit in those containers.
When entering a car as a passenger, most people don’t even consider whether the driver or any other occupant could be carrying illegal contraband. However, just because a person lacks knowledge of other occupants’ possessions, this does not give a passenger any protection from being searched. Because of this, you should always be aware of the possible consequences for the actions or possessions of another occupant of a car.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a criminal charge based off the search of your car, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.
James Minick is founder and C.E.O. of Minick Law, P.C. James is committed to providing top notch legal services through his team of highly specialized legal professionals. James will defend your rights.