Passenger of vehicle does not have standing to object to search of car


In 1999, Rankin County Deputy Shannon Penn was sitting in his parked patrol car on Interstate 20, when he saw a white Dodge Intrepid pass by him and noticed that the driver was riding the brakes and continued to do so for approximately a mile.

Penn cited this as strange behavior and followed the car. Penn then pulled in front of the Intrepid and began to slow to approximately 68 miles per hour, two miles per hour below the speed limit. The Intrepid never attempted to pass Penn.

The Intrepid, which turned out to be a rental car, then ran over the shoulder of the road and Penn pulled the Intrepid over for improper lane usage. The driver, Roy Esparza, was handicapped and Penn noted that the rental car was equipped with handicap controls. The passenger riding with Esparza was Lilliana Maldonado.

Esparza seemed very nervous and never made eye contact with Penn. Esparza told Penn that he was driving to Alabama to visit relatives. Penn obtained consent to search the car from Esparza. Esparza received a search consent form to sign, stating that it was permissible with Esparza that Penn search the entire vehicle.

Penn testified that he explained the consent form to Esparza before asking him to sign it and that he filled in some of the blanks on the form for Esparza, such as Esparza’s name and the make of the vehicle. Penn then asked Esparza to execute the consent form at the bottom.

The consent form provided that Esparza could refuse a search of the car and also that, once Penn began the search, Esparza could stop him at any time. Esparza executed the form, allowing Penn to search the rental vehicle. Inside of the trunk, Penn found two duffle bags which contained a substance that was later determined to be cocaine.

Penn then Mirandized both Esparza and Maldonado and they went to the police station with the rental car. Esparza asked Penn to get some personal belongings for him from the car. Penn noticed five suitcases in the back seat of the car with two stuffed animals sitting on top of them.

Penn tried to push one of the suitcases over in an effort to find the bag Esparza wanted and when he did so, he found the suitcase to be tremendously heavy. Penn testified that he unzipped the suitcase to see if Esparza’s bag was possibly inside and when he looked inside the suitcase, he found more of the substance later found to be cocaine. Penn then looked in the other suitcases and confirmed that they all contained large amounts of this substance.

It was later determined that there was a total of 716 pounds of cocaine packed in the rental car. Esparza confessed and testified against Maldonado. Esparza said he met a man at a bar in Houston named Maestro and they formed a plan to transport drugs. Maestro brought Maldanodo to work with Esparza. She had done this before, helped to load the bags into the car, made a call to Maestro while in route, and instructed Esparza on what to say if stopped by police.

Maldonado had never been arrested and denied all of the above. She said that Esparza was simply giving her a ride to New York. She was convicted and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, she argued that she had standing to object to the search of the car. MCOA affirmed.


In Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court provided that a person has standing to raise a Fourth Amendment illegal search and seizure claim only if that claimant himself has an injury in fact resulting from the illegal search.

The MSC in White v. State, 571 So. 2d 956 (Miss. 1990), said that the test is whether the person challenging the search and invoking his Fourth Amendment rights has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the thing or place being searched. White also said that property interests, possessory interests, and such concepts are not irrelevant and are not to be disregarded, but neither are they to be controlling.

We cannot say that Maldonado had a reasonable expectation of privacy as a passenger in the car Esparza was driving, as it was neither in her name, nor is there any evidence that she was shown on the rental agreement as an additional person responsible for it. The rental agreement specified Esparza as the sole driver of the car and therefore the sole person responsible for the car.

Maldonado, as a mere passenger, cannot challenge the search of the car or the seizure of the contents therein, even if the contents were found to be her personal property. In this case, there were no limits as the consent to search form designated all parts of the car as searchable.