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PA Supreme Court Ruling: Police Do Not Need Search Warrant to Search Vehicles

WEST HAZLETON — A ruling by the state Supreme Court makes it easier for police to search your car even without a warrant.

This week’s ruling by the state Supreme Court concerned a traffic stop and drug arrest that happened about four years ago in Philadelphia. The ruling allows police to search a vehicle without the driver’s permission and without a warrant, if they find probable cause.

Plenty of drivers have been there: those flashing lights; a police officer pulls you over for a traffic stop.

West Hazleton’s police chief says his department pulls over nearly 500 vehicles each month. About 75 of those traffic stops lead to arrests for drugs or other charges.

“We’re always looking beyond that traffic stop to see what’s going on,” said West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Buglio.

In the past if a police officer asked to search a car…

“If the officer would smell marijuana for instance,” said Buglio.

If the driver said no, that officer would have to get a search warrant signed by a judge.

However, a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court just changed that. Now, if police want to search your car they won’t need a search warrant any more. All they’ll need now is probable cause.

The idea isn’t sitting well with some drivers.

“My car is private property just as my house. If they can go in my car, the next step is going to be my house and nobody has any right to be in my house at all,” said Susanne Evancho from Hazleton.

“If it’s going to cut down on the crime, on drugs, I’m all for it.”

“I think that it’s something that infringes on people’s rights, but at the same time police got to do what they got to do.” said Joseph Yisrael from Hazleton.

“We still need probable cause to search that vehicle. We can’t just go and search that vehicle without probable cause,” said Buglio.

Probable cause could be something such as smelling or seeing drugs in the car.

Chief Brian Buglio says the rule is more lenient than before, but is now in line with federal law.

“The laws are the laws and we got to follow them. Whether we like it or not the laws are the laws,” said Yisrael.

Several other states have followed this guideline for years. This doesn’t mean police will search every car they stop. They still need probable cause to search a vehicle.

You can read the full PA Supreme Court opinion by clicking here.


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