Warrantless Searches of Vehicles OK in PA

By | May 27, 2014
warrantless searches

Police officer conducting drug search with drug sniffing dog.


PA Supreme Court rules police can conduct warrantless searches of vehicles

Warrantless searches of vehicles by police are now legal in the State of Pennsylvania.

On May 14th, Eric Boehm of the PA Independent reported that “The state Supreme Court ruled last week that police are allowed to search vehicles without a warrant. The state General Assembly, meanwhile, is moving forward with a bill that would give cops the authority to arrest people caught with ‘secret compartments’ in their vehicles, even if there is nothing illegal in those suspicious containers.” This means that police can conduct warrantless searches of your vehicle and you maybe soon subject to arrest even if nothing is found.

Boehm also wrote:

Writing for the majority in the 4-2 ruling, Justice Seamus McCaffery said requiring police to have probable cause for a search is “a strong and sufficient safeguard against illegal searches,” and brings state law in line with federal law allowing warrantless searches of vehicles.

Defense attorneys and civil liberties groups disagree.

Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, said he worries that killing the requirement for a search warrant eliminates an important check on police power.

“I think getting a warrant is significant because it is one more deterrent against bad police behavior,” he told PA Independent. “There was really no reason for the court to overturn the law. We have a long history of strong protections for individual rights in Pennsylvania.”

Some states have constitutional language requiring a warrant before a vehicle can be searched, but Pennsylvania’s does not. In the ruling, McCaffery said that has caused a wide range of confusing and contradictory rulings from state courts that have examined the issue.

“To provide greater uniformity in the assessment of individual cases and more consistency with regard to the admissibility of the fruits of vehicular searches based on probable cause, a more easily applied rule — such as that of the federal automobile exception — is called for,” he wrote.

If you think that’s bad, read the next excerpt from Boehm’s article.


On the same day the Supreme Court ruling was announced, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation making it a crime to possess a car with “secret compartments.” If the bill becomes law, anyone caught with such compartments could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and have their vehicle seized by police — even if the compartments hold nothing but air.

A conviction would carry up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

warrantless searches

HARPER: State Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, says law enforcement groups want to get cars used for smuggling off the road.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, deems this legislative behavior as “part of the expanding criminalization of America where virtually any act can be charged as a crime by police.”

I would tend to agree.

The expansion of the police state in the US is a result of the authoritarian governing that’s circumventing constitutional law. This type of legislative behavior (warrantless searches of a vehicle) opens the door for police misconduct such as racial profiling, harassment, and unnecessary infringements of privacy.

The continuous outgrowth of criminalization will create a society where citizens become criminals for any act which can give the police undue protection by the law for abuses of power, by simply charging someone with a crime to keep from being held to account for any malfeasance; in other words, “dirty” cops will be able to ‘cover their ass’ in many cases of misconduct.

It also helps create for the private prison industry a ‘demand’ for their ‘supply’ through further criminalization, and increase the job market and job security for police.

Drivers in Pennsylvania now have bigger concerns about the protection of their rights in a motor vehicle than ever before. Everyone better pay attention. Warrantless searches will open the door for nefarious conduct.

To read Eric Boehm’s full story, go to http://paindependent.com/2014/05/cops-can-now-search-your-car-without-a-warrant/

To learn about your legal rights, go to http://www.flexyourrights.org/