New opinion: former passengers lack standing to challenge vehicle search

It is well-settled that owners of cars, but not mere passengers, have standing to object to police searches of vehicles. But what about former passengers? Here, a defendant was a former passenger — he had ridden in the getaway car before it was abandoned at a dead end — and he asked the court to rule that former passengers have standing to challenge a vehicle search because (for reasons not apparent from the opinion) they have a stronger privacy interest in the contents of a car than current passengers do. CA3 described that as “a somewhat creative argument,” but rejected it and affirmed.

The case is US v. Burnett. Opinion by Greenberg, joined by Fuentes and Cowen. The case was decided without oral argument.

The opinion begins with this offbeat observation:

A well-informed criminal concerned about having standing to challenge a search of his escape vehicle if he is apprehended after a robbery would recognize that even though the owner of the vehicle may claim a privacy interest in the vehicle and its contents, a passenger or former passenger of the vehicle faces an uphill battle if he attempts to establish that he has standing to move to suppress evidence found in the vehicle during the search.