Can an Unauthorized Driver of a Rental Car Challenge an Illegal Serch in Florida

In Florida, the police are generally not allowed to search a suspect’s vehicle unless the driver or owner gives consent to search, the police have probable cause to believe there is evidence of criminal activity inside or there is an arrest of an occupant of the vehicle and there is a danger that evidence may be compromised. The police cannot stop a driver and then search the vehicle based on any assumptions or anonymous tips that there may be illegal drugs or other evidence in the vehicle.

When the police conduct an illegal search, the defendant’s remedy is to have the criminal defense lawyer file a motion to suppress to have any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal search thrown out of court. However, the defendant must have what is called standing in order to have the criminal defense attorney properly file the motion. Standing is another word for the legal right to challenge the alleged illegal search. If the driver who was arrested also owned the vehicle, or had authorization from the owner to drive the vehicle, that defendant would likely have standing to challenge an illegal search. Likewise, if a person rented the vehicle, the renter would have standing to challenge an illegal search. But what about a person driving a rental car that was not listed as an authorized driver?

In a recent drug case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer stopped the defendant for traffic violations. The officer asked for consent to search the vehicle, but the driver refused. The officer noted the driver was driving a rental car and asked to see the rental car agreement. The police officer saw that the agreement mentioned only one authorized driver, and the person driving was not him. The police officer ultimately searched the vehicle and found marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia inside. The driver was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

This appeared to be an illegal search so the criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the marijuana evidence. Even though the motion was valid as it challenged the questionable search, the court denied the motion because the driver did not have standing to challenge the illegal search. The rule in Florida is that an unauthorized driver of a rental car cannot challenge an illegal search in court. By unauthorized, the law means that the rental agency must have specifically authorized the driver on the rental agreement. If the person who was authorized to drive the rental car allowed another person to drive the car, that other driver is not considered an authorized driver if he/she is not listed on the rental agreement.

To put it another way, if you are driving a rental car and you are not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement, the police can basically pull you over and search the car without complying with any right to privacy protections in the constitution.

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