If you’ve been pulled over by a police officer, they need to have probable cause to have done so. However, a law last year reduced some additional liberties that Pennsylvania drivers had long enjoyed, including the right for their cars to remain private during the stop, unless the officer had an additional probable cause to search the vehicle, such as the smell of marijuana, or other visible evidence of criminal activity. The officer would have instead needed a search warrant to go through the vehicle, granted by a judge barring any immediate need for search. This was an extra right to Pennsylvania residents not granted under the United States Constitution, and has recently been revoked by the state Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision.

Arguments Against: Some of the opponents of this decision are upset that it takes away from their rights, and will mean many more unnecessary searches and violations of privacy will be taking place. A major concern is that of racial profiling, especially for young black men on the PA Turnpike and in primarily African-American neighborhoods. Criminal defense attorney and former Pittsburgh police officer Carmen Robinson said that some officers are “just going to take shortcuts,” which would end up erasing many constitutional protections.

Arguments For: One of the main arguments in support of this decision is that it will allow police officers to more efficiently perform their job operations without wasting time waiting for a warrant, which could allow many rule-breakers to get off the hook. According to Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Kevin McCarthy, it will “allow police to effectively arrest and secure vehicles,” and is completely constitutional under federal law.

Legality:  While it may seem shocking to many Pennsylvania drivers who have enjoyed the additional protections under Pennsylvania state law, the former and now rescinded need to obtain a warrant before searching a car was never a federal right. This is agreed upon by legal scholars, though not all of the justices, including Debra McCloskey Todd and Max Baer, were in agreement. In the dissent, Todd wrote that the ruling “heedlessly contravenes over 225 years of unyielding protection.”

The Case: In the headlines-making case over which this decision was made, a driver had been pulled over for tinted windows, smelled of marijuana, and the driver told the officers that there was indeed marijuana in the vehicle. When they searched the car, they found 2 pounds underneath the hood. In trial, the driver argued that the officers did not have the necessary amount of probable cause to search the car.

If you need an expert defense lawyer for a case of unfair search or seizure, or a number of other driving related charges, we and Sebald, Hackwelder, & Knox are on the case to fight for your rights. For a free phone consultation, give us a call today at (814) 833-1987 to learn more about your options in the case, and how we will use our expert trial experience to get you the best possible outcome.