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Illinois Court: Cop Cannot Call Hertz Over A Speeding Ticket
Illinois police may not phone rental car companies to verify whether a suspected speeder is an authorized driver.

Judge Joy V. CunninghamIllinois police officers may not detain rental car drivers pulled over for minor traffic infractions to verify whether they are authorized drivers. That was the finding handed down Friday by the Illinois Appellate Court, which had taken up the case of Mark Cassino, who drove his rented Ford through a speed trap in Cook County.

Illinois State Police Trooper Garret C. Lindroth claims he saw the Ford hit 89 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. The trooper quickly ran the registration and knew it was a rental, so when he came to the Cassino's door, he asked for his license and a copy of the rental agreement. Cassino handed the officer the paperwork and said his name was not on the agreement. At this point, the trooper spent about twenty-five minutes on the phone with Hertz. Hertz asked for the car to be impounded because Cassino was not listed on the agreement.

Without asking anything about who was the authorized driver of the Ford, Trooper Lindroth returned and informed Cassino would be charged with trespassing and the car searched as a part of the impounding process. He found a small baggie of drugs.

At trial, the trooper admitted that he has pulled over countless people driving cars that belonged to someone else, but he never once felt compelled to call the car's owner. The trooper also stated he had no reason to believe the rental car had been stolen. While the lower court was mulling over what to do in the case, the US Supreme Court held that a rental car driver still has a privacy interest in the vehicle, even if he is not listed on the rental agreement (view ruling). That finding informed the divided three-judge appellate panel.

"First, it is obvious that the inquiry to Hertz had nothing to do with the traffic violation that warranted the stop, specifically, speeding," Judge Joy V. Cunningham wrote for the majority. "We fail to see how the trooper's inquiry to Hertz in this case furthers the objective of ensuring safe and responsible operation of vehicles on the road. There is nothing inherently unsafe or irresponsible (let alone illegal) about a situation in which a rental car is driven by someone other than the lessee identified on the rental agreement."

The appellate court pointed out that the rental agreement is a just a contract, and allowing someone else to drive without the rental company's permission is at most a breach of contract, not a violation of the law.

"We thus agree with defendant's observation that Trooper Lindroth, in this case, essentially inserted himself into a contractual relationship between Hertz and the lessee of the vehicle," Judge Cunningham wrote. "We conclude that Trooper Lindroth's prolongation of the stop in order to call Hertz was not within the mission of the stop."

Because the call created unreasonable delay, the court ruled that it created an unlawful detention. As a result, all of the evidence the trooper obtained from the search of the vehicle was thrown out. A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Illinois v. Cassino (Illinois Appellate Court, 6/7/2019)

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