I participate in various forums, such as Avvo, where citizens can ask general questions of lawyers. I find this an efficient way of answering legal questions for people in Idaho and around the country. A question came across the other day about whether a person could move to suppress evidence of an illegal search of his girlfriend’s car. The post began like this: “I was pulled over for having a headlight out in my girlfriend’s car. She was the passenger!” Additional facts provided were: “When I was out of the car the officer asked if he could search the vehicle! I told him no because it wasn’t my vehicle.” The owner of the car eventually consented to a search of it. Of course, drugs, scales and paraphernalia were found. Presumably the individual is now subject to criminal charges.
The search of a vehicle implicates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
There are many exceptions to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. In the context of a vehicle search, Of course, the consent to search is one of the exceptions.
Unfortunately for the driver who posted the question, he simply does not have standing to challenge the search of the vehicle. He cannot seek to suppress the evidence found.
In State v. Bordeaux, the Idaho Court of Appeals provided a nice summary of this area of the law:
Generally, only the owner of a vehicle has standing to directly challenge an illegal search. Idaho courts have consistently held that a passenger in a vehicle subject to an allegedly illegal search generally does not have standing to object to the search of the car. A passenger who has no proprietary interest in the vehicle lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy, and therefore, standing to challenge a search where the driver has consented. The rule is well established that in order to assert standing to suppress evidence, the individual seeking suppression must demonstrate some proprietary interest in the premises searched or some other interest giving a reasonable expectation of privacy. The individual’s rights must have been infringed. These rights are personal and a claim may not be asserted vicariously that the government has invaded a third party’s privacy rights. Id. Where a passenger fails to make a showing of a legitimate expectation of privacy, his Fourth Amendment rights have not been violated.
In the factual scenario posted by the driver of the vehicle, he stated it was his girlfriend’s car. Additionally, when law enforcement asked him for consent to search the vehicle, the driver disavowed any ownership interest and, thus, any reasonable expectation of privacy in the car.
Search and seizure law is highly technical and a proper analysis and argument which leads to suppression of evidence is a big win for defendants. If you have a case involving the search and seizure of evidence, you need a good criminal defense attorney.