Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court relaxed the requirements for search and seizure relating to motor vehicles in the state. Traditionally, police officers were required to have a warrant in order to search a vehicle after a traffic stop, but now these requirements have been lessened by the Court's ruling.
Prior to this ruling, if a person were pulled over for a minor traffic violation, but the police had a suspicion that there was other contraband in the vehicle, the officer would normally have to get a warrant to search the car, unless he got the consent of the driver to conduct a search. With today's technology, getting a warrant was not the difficult, as all police vehicles are equipped with computers. In its ruling, however, the state's highest court decided that the warrant requirement was not a necessity in order to carry out a proper search and seizure.
The PA Supreme court made its decision to get rid of the warrant requirement in some circumstances because of a traffic stop case in Philadelphia that made its way up to the Court. In the Philly case, the defendant was pulled over by officers and when they were walking to the car the cops noticed a strong scent of marijuana. Upon being confronted about the smell the defendant admitted that he had some of the drug in his car. Because of his admission and the strong odor coming from the car the officers searched the car and found a large amount of marijuana inside.
The issue in this case was the fact that the cops failed to obtain a warrant or permission from the driver prior to searching the vehicle. Prior to the PA Supreme Court's ruling in this case, the admission by the driver was not enough to allow the cops to search the car without a warrant or consent, but now the Court decided that probable cause was enough to allow the police to search the car. Now, therefore, the standard for cops to be able to search a vehicle that was stopped for a violation of a PA traffic law is probable cause. The police no longer needed to obtain a warrant or get the driver's permission before searching a vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that contraband will be found inside.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in this case has resulted in a change in a PA law that has been around for many years. There are still questions regarding the new standard and exactly what is enough to equal probable cause. It is also unclear how the change will impact routine traffic stops in the future and how it will impact individuals who drive motorcycles.
If you are facing criminal charges that resulted from a search and seizure made during a routine traffic stop, contact our Pennsylvania criminal law attorneys at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates. Our team of lawyers makes sure to stay up to date on the latest developments in Pennsylvania search and seizure law and can provide you with information regarding your rights under the new law.