Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98 (1980)

2012-08-22 16:18:34

In order for a person to be entitled to suppress evidence that has been seized unconstitutionally by the police and is going to be used against him or her in a criminal trial, that person must have ‘‘standing’’ to raise the issue. Standing exists only when and if a person’s own constitutional rights have been violated, not when the police have violated another person’s constitutional rights. Put another way, there is no ‘‘vicarious standing.’’

The Rawlings case is a classic example. Police officers entered a home with an arrest warrant for the owner. Rawlings, a visitor, was present and just prior to the officers’ arrival, he asked another visitor, Cox, to let him put his drugs in her purse. The police subsequently ordered Cox to dump out the contents of her purse, exposing the narcotics. Rawlings tried to have these drugs suppressed, arguing that the police search and seizure was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court held that Rawlings lacked standing to raise the issue. Then-Justice Rehnquist, for the majority, held that Rawlings did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in Cox’s purse necessary for standing because he had only known her for a few days, had never used her purse before, she had let another friend go through her purse that morning, the transaction was precipitous, and Rawlings had not taken ‘‘normal precautions’’ to maintain the privacy of his drugs.

The Rawlings decision reflects a narrow view of when a legitimate expectation of privacy exists, a view that has not always been followed so grudgingly by the Court. For example, the Court subsequently held that overnight visitors in an apartment have a reasonable expectation of privacy sufficient for standing to raise the issue of the constitutionality of searches and seizures on those premises.


See also Exclusionary Rule; Privacy; Search (General Definition)