Skilled Legal Representation For the People of Philadelphia & Beyond SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION

When Can Police Search My Car?

May 4, 2021

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, individuals are stopped by police officers everyday for various reasons. During these stops, officers may be able to search your car for various reasons set forth below.

Providing Consent to Search Your Vehicle

In any situation in which you provide consent to an officer to search your vehicle, he/she will be able to conduct a lawful search of your vehicle. However, there are situations in which consent can be made under duress. If you consented to have your vehicle searched while under duress, the items seized as a result of that search can be suppressed through a motion filed by your attorney. It is important to note that you are NEVER obligated to consent to any search of your vehicle and you would be well advised to never give consent for officers to search your car.

When Evidence is in Plain View ?

In situations where an officer lawfully stops a vehicle, he/she may be able to seize any illegal items that are considered to be in “plain view”. The plain view doctrine allows a police officer retrieve objects he observes the object in plain view and has probable cause to believe that it is connected with criminal activities. The incriminating character of the object should be immediately identifiable and not subject to debate as to its legality.

Probable Cause is No Longer Enough to Search a Vehicle

In the seminal case of Commonwealth v. Alexander the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled Commonwealth v. Gary, 91 A.3d 102 (Pa. 2014), and that Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution affords greater protection to Pennsylvania’s citizens than the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court reaffirmed that the Pennsylvania Constitution requires both probable cause and exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless search of an automobile.

Inventory Search of Your Vehicle…. A Counter to Alexander?

Generally, law enforcement must obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a vehicle One exception is an inventory search pursuant to South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 369 (1976). The authority of the police to tow vehicles comes from the police's community care-taking duties. Such duties include:

  • removing disabled or damaged vehicles from a roadway,

  • impounding automobiles which violate parking ordinances (thereby jeopardizing public safety and efficient traffic flow),

  • protecting the community's safety."

Inventory searches are a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and, "it is reasonable for police to search the personal effects of a person under lawful arrest as part of the routine administrative procedure" Commonwealth v. Nace, 571 A.2d 1389, 1391 (Pa. 1990).

How Can I Know if My Car Was Improperly Searched ?

At The Town Law, we understand just how stressful facing criminal charges can be. With our vast experience handling vehicle search cases throughout Bucks County, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania, we are well-equipped to ensure you get the best result possible with attentive attorneys by your side throughout the process. Contact our firm today for a free consultation. Our staff of experienced attorneys is dedicated to the best outcomes for all of our clients.