What should be considered quite a blow privacy from a state supreme judiciary, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that police officers do not need a search warrant to search your car in their state.
Perhaps you lawyers out there can find how the court found this opinion to acceptable, in regards to the 4th Amendment, which requires a warrant before items can be searched for and seized.
“The prerequisite for a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is probable cause to search,” [Justice Seamus] McCaffery writes in the opinion. “We adopt the federal automobile exception . . . which allows police officers to search a motor vehicle when there is probable cause to do so . . .”
The case in question involved a 2010 vehicle stop in Philadelphia that produced two pounds of marijuana, which were found under the hood.
Pennsylvania police officers no longer need a warrant to search a citizen’s vehicle, according to a recent state Supreme Court opinion.
The high court’s opinion, released Tuesday, is being called a drastic change in citizens’ rights and police powers.
Previously, citizens could refuse an officer’s request to search a vehicle. In most cases, the officer would then need a warrant — signed by a judge — to conduct the search.
That’s no longer the case, according to the opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.
The ruling, passed on a 4-2 vote, was made in regard to an appeal from a 2010 vehicle stop in Philadelphia.
Local police and legal professionals are calling the opinion “big news.”
“This is a significant change in long-standing Pennsylvania criminal law, and it is a good one,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said Wednesday afternoon.
Under prior law, an officer who smells marijuana inside a car, for example, could only search the car with the driver’s consent — or if illegal substances were in plain view. (Federal officers, like FBI or ATF agents, can search, regardless.)
Now, based on the opinion, it only takes reasonable probable cause for an officer to go ahead with a search without a warrant.
“The prerequisite for a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is probable cause to search,” McCaffery writes in the opinion. “We adopt the federal automobile exception… which allows police officers to search a motor vehicle when there is probable cause to do so…”
Previously, a warrantless search was only allowed if “exigent circumstances” existed, the opinion states.
“This case gives the police simpler guidelines to follow and (it) finally and clearly renders our law consistent with established federal law,” Stedman said.
“It is a ruling that helps law enforcement as they continue to find people in possession of illegal drugs,” New Holland police Lt. Jonathan Heisse said Wednesday.
While police rejoice over what’s been a lasting issue, citizens might not be as thrilled.
“It’s an expanding encroachment of government power,” defense attorney Jeffrey Conrad said Wednesday morning, while reviewing the 62-page opinion. “It’s a protection we had two days ago, that we don’t have today. It’s disappointing from a citizens’ rights perspective.”
Pennsylvania made a grave error with this ruling. Now in the Commonwealth, a judicial opinion has made it even easier for law enforcement to violate the rights of citizens. Sadly, the federal government had already set the precedent for these Constitutional violations of privacy.