Drive a rental car without authorization from the rental company and you lose your normal right to privacy during a police search, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled today in a case involving a man convicted of drug possession.
Police officers testified when they spotted Antwan Lawson's Dodge Charger just sitting in a crosswalk at Dorchester Avenue and Semont Road, with its lights on and motor running on Oct. 18, 2007, they decided to have a chat with the driver because the car looked like one wanted in connection with a shooting a few days earlier.
Among other things, it turned out the rental company had never given Lawson permission to drive the car, and that means that by itself the officers had the right to order him out of the car and call in a drug-sniffing dog, the court ruled:
[A] defendant does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy where he has no right to be in the house or automobile where the evidence is found.
But even if Lawson had had permission, the court continued, the officers did nothing wrong in their investigation and arrest for possession of the 52 grams of marijuana hidden by the windshield that the dog found.
Lawson's car was stopped illegally and appeared very nervous - he was shaking - when officers came up to him. Also, they found numerous air fresheners strewn about the car, which often indicates pot smoking in the car, as well as a thick wad of bills and credit cars sitting on the center console. Couple that with the fact the car matched the description of the vehicle used in the shooting and that it was sitting in a high-crime area and the officers had the right to conduct a warrantless search, the court said.