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Unlawful Search and Seizure – Understanding Your Rights

Pennsylvania Civil Rights Lawyers discuss illegal search and seizure.According to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the law protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officials. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Constitution included a search and seizure provision that offered citizens even greater protection against illegal search and seizures. Law enforcement could not legally search a motor vehicle without exigent circumstances and a search warrant. However, roughly five years ago, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that police officers no longer needed exigent circumstances to search a vehicle. This has had a significant impact on criminal cases in Pennsylvania.

In the Commonwealth v. Gary case, the defendant was pulled over for a window tint violation, but as the officers approached the vehicle, they smelled marijuana. When the officers asked the driver about the smell, he told them that there was marijuana in the car. The officers removed him from the vehicle, put him in the police car and called for a canine unit. The driver allegedly attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended. The officers proceeded to search the car without a warrant and discovered two pounds of marijuana under the front hood.

A request was made to suppress the illegal search, but was denied by the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Court of Common Pleas. An appeal was made to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the decision. The Supreme court decided that probable cause is enough to allow police officers to search a vehicle.

Purpose of Search Warrants

In most cases, state and federal laws require that a search warrant be obtained before a search and seizure. A judge or magistrate will issue the warrant if the law enforcement officer requesting the warrant is able to show probable cause. However, there are circumstances where a search and seizure may be permitted without a warrant, including the following:

  • The individual has given consent to search the home or vehicle
  • The search is an emergency situation
  • The driver was observed making specific, brief stops
  • The search is related to an arrest
  • Seizures of object that are in plain sight

Reasonable Versus Illegal Search and Seizures

Under the Fourth Amendment, a search is a violation of someone’s reasonable expectation of privacy by a law enforcement official. A strip search is generally considered to be a legal search if it is conducted with probable cause, and in a reasonable manner. However, a dog-sniff inspection will not be considered a valid search if it violated the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

Pennsylvania Civil Rights Lawyers at Williams Cedar Assist Those Subjected to Illegal Search and Seizure

If you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure by a law enforcement official, you are urged to contact the Pennsylvania civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar as soon as possible. We will determine whether the law enforcement official violated your rights while conducting a search of your vehicle. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 215-557-0099 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, where we represent clients throughout the surrounding areas in Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and nationwide.