Police Do not Need a Warrant to Search or Seize your vehicle From Your Driveway

Filed under: Criminal Law, News by Contributor @ December 16, 2015

In an matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided in the case of Commonwealth v. Loughnane that if police have probable cause to search or seize a vehicle parked in a driveway at a private residence, they do not need to first obtain a warrant before conducting a search of that vehicle.

Pennsylvania courts have recognized that the protections afforded to individuals under both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 are applicable to the curtilage of a person’s home. The Superior Court defines the curtilage of the home as places “where the occupants have a reasonable expectation of privacy that society is prepared to accept.” Curtilage, however, has not been extended to an individual’s driveway. In Loughnane, the Court noted that no reasonable expectation of privacy existed for the car at issue because the car was parked in plain view of the street on the driveway, within 20 feet of the road, and the driveway was not gated, fenced, or posted with “no trespassing” signs.

Further, as a result of the Supreme Court’s holding in Commonwealth v. Gary, in order for police to conduct a warrantless search of an automobile, the police must now only establish probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found therein, and are no longer required to establish exigent circumstances, which was the requirement prior to their holding. The mere mobility of a vehicle now satisfies the exigency requirement.¬†As a result of the Court’s holding in Gary, the mobility of a vehicle is sufficient to establish exigent circumstances to justify the search of a vehicle, and because driveways are not part of the home’s curtilage an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the driveway.

In conclusion, The Superior Court has decided that the police can search a vehicle parked in the driveway of a person’s home because the driveway is not protected as the curtilage of a home, and the mobility of a vehicle is sufficient to establish exigent circumstances requiring immediate search to prevent loss or destruction of evidence.

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