State lawmakers once again mandate vehicle warrants, raises questions for recent cases

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is once again changing its tune on vehicle searches. In a  4-3  decision earlier this week, it now says once again, Pennsylvania will require a search warrant for law enforcement.

Let’s go all the way back to 1925. The automobile exception was put into place allowing officers to search vehicles based solely on the probable cause because vehicles are mobile. They can be here today and across the country tomorrow.

Though Pennsylvania didn’t adopt that exception until 2014 and now, it’s gone again.

“It’s not exactly the Christmas gift we were expecting from the supreme court,” said Fran Chardo, Dauphin County District Attorney. “In a 4-3 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court basically said ‘we changed our mind.’”

Chardo says law enforcement says they can figure it out. They worked without the exception for decades, but this raises questions for recent cases.

“We knew we were following the law because the Supreme Court said we don’t have to get a warrant,” said Chardo. “And it just doesn’t seem fair that we were following the law and now we’re going to have to litigate the legality of those searches.”

According to Chardo, the suspects will be the ones who ultimately suffer. So the suspect is going to have to pay the tow fee, is going to have to wait maybe a day or two to get their car back.”

“We’re going to have to tow that vehicle then get a warrant.”

When asked why the court threw out another reversal, “some of the things they look at is our traditions and interests that are unique to Pennsylvania.” said Chardo.

But three Justices had no interests in the new, but old law.

“Police have relied on this for the past six and a half years and you shouldn’t just change things because you didn’t like the decision.”

Chardo wasn’t exactly sure how many other states do not have the automobile exception but he says it is a rarity for sure.

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