My clients come to me and tell me about how they were passengers in a friend’s car that was searched by the police. After some initial questioning of the driver, the police officer leans over to the passenger and asks, “Do you have anything illegal on you?” All of a sudden, as a passenger, you are involved in being questioned and searched by the police. If you are in a situation like this you should know your rights and what the law says.
In order for a person to challenge being searched by the police, the passenger must establish that they had an expectation of privacy in the area searched. The fact that a person is a passenger in an automobile with the consent of the owner does not determine whether he or she had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the areas of the automobile that were searched by the police.
A passenger normally does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in areas that are of no concern to him or her, such as the trunk, glove compartment, and the area under the seat.
However, when a defendant was a “welcome passenger” in his girlfriend’s car during an extended trip from Texas to Illinois, stored his personal belongings in the car, and possessed a set of car keys, he had standing to contest the search by the police of a duffell bag in the car’s trunk because he had the ability to control or exclude others from the car.
Remember, passengers have standing to contest the illegal search by the police of a vehicle in which they are riding.
For the duration of a traffic stop, a police officer effectively seizes everyone in the vehicle. Situations that I come across regularly include a passenger having his closed suitcase located inside the trunk of a car searched when the passenger claims ownership of the suitcase.
Purav Bhatt is a criminal defense attorney serving the Chicagoland area including Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense contact The Law Office of Purav Bhatt at 773-791-9682.