Reason: Volokh Conspiracy: The Property-in-Property Problem in Fourth Amendment Law by Orin Kerr:
A tale of two new cases on your constitutional rights when you leave your backpack with your drugs in someone else’s car.
A common problem in Fourth Amendment law that Supreme Court cases leave surprisingly unresolved is what you might call the “property-in-property” problem. It runs like this. Say a person has evidence of crime A that he puts inside his own bag or backpack or other container B. Our person then puts B inside a house, car, or other place C that they don’t own or otherwise lawfully control. The police search place C, and they find container B. The police then search container B and find evidence A. That leads to charges, and a Fourth Amendment dispute over the admissibility of evidence A.
The property-in-property problem raises two interesting legal questions. First, if the person is charged, does he have standing to challenge the search of his own property B that ultimately revealed evidence A? And second, can the owner of place C consent to a search of property B to find A?
Two recent decisions on this issue point in different directions, and I think it’s interesting to see if we can reconcile them. Let’s take the two issues in turn.