In a very important decision, the PA Supreme Court rules that vehicle searches require "exigent circumstances" and "probable cause"

Pennsylvania briefly abandoned the warrant requirement for vehicle searches following a messy decision in Comm. v. Gary. Today, in a case that is seismic in importance to criminal law in Pennsylvania, the PA Supreme Court requires police to have both probable cause and exigent circumstances in order to search a vehicle without a warrant. The practical consequence is that most vehicle searches will now require a warrant to be legal. Here is the entire 55 page decision

Here is the key language from the PA Supreme Court in explaining their mandate toward the end of the massive, 55 page decision:

"Obtaining a warrant is the default rule. If an officer proceeds to conduct a warrantless search, a reviewing court will be required to determine whether exigent circumstances existed to justify the officer’s judgment that obtaining a warrant was not reasonably practicable." 

Given how central vehicle code enforcement is to law enforcement in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere around the nation) it is really hard to overstate how significant this case is.

An interesting footnote to this decision to me is that the PA Supreme Court, while grounding this decision in PA Constitutional law (Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, specifically), they took comfort with how the US Supreme Court and Justice Kavanaugh (in a concurring opinion) approached overruling settled law in the Louisiana v. Ramos case which overturned a despicable practice that for years allowed Louisiana juries to convict in death penalty cases despite not being unanimous.

  • Joseph Gothie
    published this page in DUI Blog 2020-12-22 13:24:28 -0500

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