PA Supreme Court Adopts Automobile Exception to Warrant Requirement

Filed under: Criminal Law, News by Steven F. Fairlie @ April 29, 2014

Commonwealth v. Shiem Gary:
In a stunning reversal of years of Pennsylvania jurisprudence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today discarded the greater protections of Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and held that there is no longer any greater protection under the Pennsylvania Constitution than under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, the Court adopted the automobile exception to the warrant requirement as a bright line rule for all automobile search cases in Pennsylvania. The result is that the Commonwealth can search any car any time there is probable cause that it might contain contraband or evidence of a crime. There is no longer any need to show an exigency such as the inability to secure the car before getting a warrant, evidence within the wingspan or lunge area of a motorist, or evidence that could be destroyed before a search. It will now be presumed that there is an exigency in every case due to the inherent mobility of a vehicle. This is a monumental shift in the law of Pennsylvania, and is part of a gradual erosion of the rights of Pennsylvania’s citizens over the last decade. The majority opinion is available here http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-5-2013oajc%20-%201017924602181959.pdf?cb=1 and the concurring opinion is available here http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-90-2013mo%20-%201017909462177675.pdf?cb=1. It is noteworthy that Justice Saylor felt the need to write a separate opinion pointing out that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court consistently eschews bright line rules that favor citizens’ rights while adopting bright line rules that enhance the powers of law enforcement.

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