2 SCOTUS Decisions From 2018 That Could Impact Your Criminal Law Case

These two cases provide clarity on privacy protections and criminal cases.

Anyone dealing with criminal charges has an idea the headache that can come with building a defense. A successful defense strategy can require knowledge of local, state and federal laws as well as holdings from cases with similar legal issues. In addition to cases in your area, it is also important to review the holdings for any similar cases that made it to the Supreme Court.

Why is it important to know what the Supreme Court decides? Decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) are applicable throughout the country. As such, it is important for anyone facing a legal issue to keep apprised of holdings by SCOTUS that may impact their case.

Did SCOTUS decide on many criminal law matters this year? Two cases directly address the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. This Fourth Amendment protection often comes into play when an officer conducts a traffic stop or otherwise searches an individual suspected of criminal activity. Essentially, this officer must have reasonable cause to conduct the stop or search. A failure to meet the expected protocol can result in the inadmissibility of any evidence gathered through the stop or search - potentially leading to the dismissal of criminal charges.

Two cases touched on the following legal issues:

  • Can a driver expect privacy in a rental vehicle? In Byrd v. United States, SCOTUS addressed whether a driver given permission from an individual that rented a vehicle can expect privacy within the car rental. The key to this case is the fact the driver was not the actual renter of the vehicle. Ultimately, the court decided this individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • Can police search a vehicle? Police are generally required to obtain a warrant to conduct a search unless an exception is present. One exception: the automobile exception. This exception allows police to search a vehicle without a warrant if the vehicle is "readily mobile." The police must also have probable cause that they will find evidence of criminal activity to support the search. In Collins v. Virginia, the defendant had allegedly evaded police by driving a motorcycle at high speeds. An officer noticed a motorcycle tire. The rest of the vehicle was covered by a tarp under a partially enclosed area adjoining the home. The officer went up the driveway, into the partially enclosed area and lifted the tarp to check the license plate. Ultimately, the court determined this was a violation of the defendant's Fourth Amendment protections.

With these recent cases, SCOTUS continues to support the importance of privacy rights.

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