You were a passenger in a friend’s car. You had your suitcase in the backseat. Your friend got pulled over by police, and police searched your bag and found drugs or weapons.

Can the police search your bag if you don’t own the car? What can you do?

Whether police can search your belongings in another’s car without a warrant turns on whether you had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car or your bags. To determine whether you can challenge a search, the court weighs several factors including:

1) Do you own the car?

2) Do you have control of the car or a right to exclude others from using it?

3) Are you legitimately in the car yourself? If you stole the car, you would not have a right to prevent a police search of your belongings.

4) Do you have a subjective expectation of privacy in the car?

5) Have you previously used the area that was searched?

In general, passengers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a car they don’t own, but may still have privacy rights in their own belongings. However, the court has found a privacy right where the passenger was given the keys to the car or was on a long road trip and stored their belongings in the car.

If you had a reasonable privacy expectation in the car, you may be able to challenge the search and any evidence that was seized. If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for the best possible defense and petition the court to suppress the results of any illegal search.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

Resource: People v Ferris.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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