A New Way to Bypass the Fourth Amendment

We’ve witnessed the Fourth Amendment’s inability to protect privacy with the recent National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance fiasco. But sometimes the state likes to create a good deal of legal justifications for its willful violation of our privacy. North Carolina has found a clever way of searing vehicles while ignore people’s Fourth Amendment privileges (because let’s not kid ourselves, the Bill or Right is now a set of privileges), hire private security officers to do the searching:

Security guard Brett Hunter received no training as to estimating speed or handling drunk drivers, but he was tasked with issuing speeding tickets to people driving through the community. When Hunter saw Weaver’s Acura through his rearview mirror, he guessed that the car was traveling at 25 MPH in a 15 MPH zone. He turned on his flashing lights and forced Weaver to pull over.

“I’m Officer Hunter from Metro Public Safety,” Hunter said as he asked Weaver for his driver’s license.

After noticing slurred speech and other signs of intoxication, Hunter ordered Weaver out of the car to sit on the curb while he called the police. Hunter also wrote an HOA speeding ticket. About ten minutes later, a university police officer arrived, only to realize she lacked jurisdiction. Thirty-five minutes into the traffic stop, a Wilmington Police Detective arrived, confirmed the signs of intoxication and took Weaver into custody for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI),

At trial, New Hanover County Superior Court Judge W. Allen Cobb Jr found the security guard was acting under the authority of the state and therefore was bound to the same reasonable suspicion standard that applies to police officers conducting a traffic stop.

“His show of apparent lawful authority (flashing lights, uniform, badge, and gun) intimidated defendant and made him feel compelled to wait outside his car for 45 minutes until WPD arrived,” Judge Cobb found.

The appellate panel rejected this reasoning, arguing that rental cops are not bound by such restrictions.

“A traffic stop conducted entirely by a nonstate actor is not subject to reasonable suspicion because the Fourth Amendment does not apply,” Judge Rick Elmore wrote for the appellate panel.

The first problem with this case is that the “officer” pulled over the individual for speeding even though he had no equipment to determine the driver’s speed. That alone should have rendered the entire encounter unlawful and got the case thrown out. But it appears that rental cops aren’t abound by the same laws as state cops are. This creates an interesting problem. What would happen if an actual cop had a rental cop ride along during patrols? If the actual cop pulled somebody over and sent the rental cop to deal with the actual encounter would the driver’s Fourth Amendment privileges be rendered irrelevant? Could actual cops send rental cops out to violate people’s so-called rights in other cases? How far can rental cops go?

This ruling is worrisome in that it creates another loophole to get around people’s privacy. And if history is any indicator we know that the state will abuse every single loophole it creates for itself.