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In the case of Commonwealth v. Gary, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Accordingly, the police can now conduct a warrantless "search of a motor vehicle when there is probable cause to do so and [it] does not require any exigency [or emergency circumstances] beyond the inherent mobility of the vehicle."
While the systematic erosion of our privacy rights is disconcerning and it may appear the police operate with unrestricted authority, opportunities to protect your rights and interests remain.
The Investigative Detention
Once the traffic stop occurs and police make contact with the vehicle's occupants(s), an 'investigative detention' is underway. This is the investigative stage of the stop. It is during this phase that law enforcement officers will look to build on their observations made prior to the stop, secure evidence of criminal activity, and develop probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the car.
Don't help the police make their case for probable cause against you.
A traffic stop and roadside investigation is not an arrest. The police can question you without advising you of your Miranda rights - right to remain silent, right to an attorney. Thus, they will use this as an opportunity to obtain potentially incriminating statements against you.
But, just because the police do not have to advise you of your right to remain silent, does not mean you have to make statements against your interests. When in doubt, Remain Silent.
While the police may not need a warrant to search a car, you are NOT required to consent to a search of it. If they don't need your permission to search your vehicle, then you don't have to give it to them.
Always remember to be respectful, non-confrontational, and even polite. It's not your job to fight your case. That is the job for a qualified and professional criminal defense lawyer.
A Pretrial Motion to Suppress Evidence
Ultimately, if you are charged with a crime as a result of a warrentless search of a vehicle, there will be a series of opportunities to secure a record for and evaluation of a possible Motion to Suppress.
Generally, a Motion to Suppress asks the court to throw out evidence that has been illegally seized. Where the police conduct a vehicle search without a warrant, the prosecution must establish evidence of probable cause for that search.
A skilled and experienced PA Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to evaluate the information secured through the Preliminary Hearing and discovery process to determine if a motion to suppress evidence for lack of probable cause should be made.
Contact Shawn Curry Law today.