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Police Car Searches in Pennsylvania
Being stopped by the police can be very scary. You could have committed a traffic offense or been driving perfectly and are being charged for a criminal offense for possessing something in your car. Police might ask you to step out of the car, and might search the vehicle for illegal items.
However, there are very specific laws regarding when, how, and where police are legally permitted to search a vehicle during a traffic stop.
You should never consent to the search of your car. You should remain silent other than giving your name and basic identifying information.
Oftentimes, one of the main ways police can find contraband is through this kind of routine car stop. Under these circumstances, sometimes police are able to do searches they might not be able to otherwise.
Generally, if you violated a law – like running a stop sign or speeding – they can stop your vehicle, and this gives them an opportunity to potentially do a search that could lead to finding illegal items, whether a gun or drugs.
If you have been pulled over and the police found something illegal, it is important to contact an experienced attorney that can help you every step of the way in your criminal case in Pennsylvania. At the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder we have the expertise necessary to zealously advocate for you and challenge the legality of searches by police.
For a free legal consultation, call 215-515-3360
Above all, police will need what is called “probable cause” to do a search of your person and car.
Probable cause is generally present when police have sufficient evidence or facts that a reasonable person would believe something illegal is happening, such as the presence of contraband in the part of the car being searched (i.e. they need to believe the drugs are in the glove compartment to search that part of the car).
There are, however, a number of exceptions to this rule, which are described below. In these exceptions, there are other reasons that give police a rationale to search, even if they do not technically have probable cause to begin which, such as if you give consent to a search, you are being arrested, or the item is in plain view.
When a police officer pulls you over, they may ask for your consent to search your car. You might think it would not make sense for someone to consent to a search if they have something illegal.
However, there are ways police might persuade you or make you think you have no options. They might say things will work out better for you, or say if you are innocent you should not have anything to hide. However, if police ask you for your consent, you can always say “no,” such that you do not provide consent and they cannot – as a direct result – search your vehicle.
There is something called the “plain view” doctrine. This is basically a commonsense way of saying if police can see – or generally use any of their senses to perceive (such as smell) – something illegal in your car, then they can perform a more thorough search to find the illegal item or find other illegal items.
So, if drug paraphernalia is sitting next to you on the passenger seat, that item can be seized, and could lead to a larger search to find other similar items.
Search Incident to Arrest
If you are arrested, police can search near you, for illegal items or weapons. This is called a “search incident to arrest.” This means that, for their personal safety, and because they are arresting you already, they can look nearby (within your “wingspan”) for more evidence of illegal activity and to protect themselves (i.e. making sure there is no gun present).
Contact an Attorney
Overall, searches are complicated areas of law. Sometimes, police might not follow the law when performing a search, and we can fight your case on those grounds. We will point out any mistakes police make when searching you, and thereby potentially disrupt the prosecution’s case against you. An experience attorney can help you decide whether you will succeed in litigating a Motion to Suppress Evidence or whether you have a different type of defense at trial.
It is important to immediately contact a knowledgeable lawyer right when you are arrested, to start assisting you right away as well as help you avoid incriminating yourself.
In Pennsylvania, the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder are proud of our commitment to fighting for you and developing the best defense possible. We will be there every step of the way to make sure we challenge every part of the search and advocate for you and your right to privacy. Contact the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder today at 215-515-3360!