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Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer > Pennsylvania Law > Your car is open to police, says Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Your car is open to police, says Pennsylvania Supreme Court

In a ruling that defense attorneys and civil rights experts have come out against, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said in early May that police can search vehicles in the absence of a warrant if probable cause exists. According to the court’s decision, probable cause is established if police have any reason to suspect that evidence of a crime or illegal goods is hidden in the vehicle. The executive director of the ACLU spoke out against the measure, saying it removed what he called an important check on the power of police. The requirement for warrants deterred bad police behavior, he said. Pennsylvania’s constitution doesn’t have language that requires a warrant in vehicle searches. One of the justices said this created confusion and inconsistent rulings across the state. The state Supreme Court ruling is meant to provide uniformity across jurisdictions, he said. In a disputing opinion, another justice wrote that the court’s ruling “contravenes” over 200 years of privacy considerations and protections against unlawful searches. The court’s ruling isn’t the only vehicle-related change that could impact criminal defense going forward. The state’s general assembly is reportedly planning to move forward on a bill that contains language about secret compartments in vehicles. The bill would allow officers to arrest individuals simply for having such a compartment, whether or not anything illegal was found inside. Both measures take away some amount of protection for residents, and certainly impacts how criminal defense strategies can proceed. It may no longer be an option to claim that police unlawfully searched a vehicle, as whether or not probable cause was evident is likely to be a subjective matter. Source:  Watchdog, “PA cops can search your car without a warrant” 17 May 2014

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