On April 29th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that police officers in the Commonwealth no longer need a warrant to search a citizens’ vehicle. Prior to the Court’s decision, an individual could refuse an officer’s request to search their vehicle. If the citizen refused, the police would typically need a warrant to continue with the search.
The most common circumstance where this law applies is when an officer smells the odor of marijuana emanating from a car. Under the previous law, if an officer detected the odor of marijuana during a traffic stop, he could only search the vehicle with the driver’s consent or if the illegal substance was in plan view.
Now, according to the new ruling, the officer is only required to have “reasonable probable cause” to proceed with a warrantless search. This new rule puts Pennsylvania in step with the federal law permitting police officers to search a motor vehicle where there is probable cause to do so. A driver may still refuse a search if an officer asks for consent, but the officer may now continue with a search if he or she has established proper probable cause to do so.
In the coming months and years, Pennsylvania lawyers will need to sort out the specific legal issues surrounding warrantless searches based on probable cause. If you have had your vehicle searched without offering your consent and were charged or arrested as a result of evidence the police uncovered during that search, contact us at Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, an experienced criminal defense attorney, for a free consultation.