In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, individuals are routinely pulled over by police officers while they are driving. In many cases, situations arise where law enforcement officials on the scene wish to search parts of the vehicle. It is essential that, any individual who have had their vehicles searched, are aware of their rights and what law enforcement officers are constitutionally permitted to do and do. In many cases, police officers infringe upon an individual’s constitutional rights and that is why having an experienced attorney is essential in order to protect your rights as a citizen.
Providing Consent to a Search
In Pennsylvania, if a police officer lawfully stops an individual while they are operating a motor vehicle, the officer(s) may ask for the driver’s permission to search the vehicle. If the driver gives the officer consent to search his/her automobile, then the police officer has the right to conduct a search of the vehicle for any illegal substances or contraband. It is important to note that, while a police officer may try to convince the individual that giving consent is the best option, the driver of the vehicle should be aware that in most cases, they can deny the officer’s request to a search absent to an arrest or probable cause.
Plain View Exception
In many situations, when policer officers approach the vehicle on a lawful stop, they look through all of the windows in order to see if any illegal substances or contraband are in the vehicle. While many individuals believe that this would constitute an unlawful search of the vehicle, police are well within their rights to seek out and confiscate any illegal materials in the vehicle that are in plain view. Common examples of plain view areas of the car include:
- Any seat in the vehicle
- The floor of the cabin
- The dashboard
- The center console
Police Search of a Vehicle Following an Arrest
In situations where the individual operating the motor vehicle is placed under arrest, the police do have the right to conduct a limited search of the vehicle. However, it is important to note that the search must only be within the “wingspan” of the driver, which means that the police can only search the cabin of the vehicle. Police are NOT permitted to search the trunk or other parts of the vehicle unless they have probable cause to do so.
Police Search of a Vehicle Due to Probable Cause
There are circumstances in which police have the right to search the entire vehicle without consent. When a police officer pulls over an Individual, and the circumstances surrounding the stop would give the officer probable cause to believe that contraband is somewhere in the vehicle, than he/she may conduct a search of the car. Common examples of circumstances that would lead to satisfying the probable cause standard include:
- The individual confessing that contraband is in the vehicle
- The aroma of narcotics, particularly marijuana, permeating throughout the car
- Indications that the vehicle has been involved in the commission of a crime
- The behavior of the individual(s) in the vehicle during the traffic stop
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the purpose is to highlight that probable cause is satisfied when the “totality of the circumstances” would indicate to the officer that illegal activity has or is occurring in the vehicle.
The Police Searched my Vehicle and Found Contraband
If you or someone know has had their vehicle searched by police officers and it resulted in a criminal charge, it is imperative that an experienced attorney is on your side. In many cases, these searches are done in a unconstitutional manner, and if it can be shown that the police searched the vehicle without proper authority, then anything found from the search could be deemed inadmissible in a court of law. The Law Office of Vincent J. Caputo is ready to help through this process. We understand that situations such as these can often be difficult for the individual involved and that is why we will work with you every step of the way in achieving the best outcome possible. Contact our office for a free consultation today, your future is our priority!