Imagine this. Your 16 year old son stops by the house to get changed for a sporting event, leaving his car parked at the curb-unlocked. Upper Moreland Police Chief Thomas Nestel has proposed a new ordinance that would permit officers to open the car doors to test whether they are locked and fine the owner of any unlocked car. So you get a fine for $50. I thought maybe this was a joke so researched it a bit, and he is dead serious. When questioned about the constiutionality of his proposal he trumped the questioner by pointing out that he has taught classes on criminology. Instead of backtracking, he went on the offensive. I think we can all agree that in today’s day and age it is not smart to leave cars unlocked, but it seems the Chief is embarking on yet another attempt to legislate away stupidity. Sorry Chief, but it can’t be done. I understand safety legislation like seatbelts, but we don’t even require motorcyclists to wear helmets. But you can open our car doors to check if they are locked and fine us if they aren’t? No way.
I don’t have any dead bodies in my car, but I still don’t think the police should have the right to open the car door and look around. I would strongly disagree with the Chief regarding the constitutionality of the proposal. I think you need a search warrant, consent, or exigency to open a car door, just like for a home. And while we’re at it, shouldn’t there be companion legislation to eliminate burglary by criminalizing leaving a house door unlocked? We can let the police come to the porch and check our front doors to make sure they are locked. It scares me that the Chief doesn’t agree that there are problems here.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and let us know whether you agree that the Upper Moreland Chief’s proposal is unconstitutional. If you want to participate in the Inquirer’s survey go here.