Supreme Court Rules Police No Longer Need a Warrant to Search Car

By Ali Ingersoll

Published 04/30 2014 10:50PM

Updated 04/30 2014 11:30PM

A new Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling changes how police can search your car. Now, they only need probable cause and do not need a warrant.

The ruling passed on a 4-2 vote. The key thing with this decision is that police must have probable cause.

"They went into detail that helps law enforcement now to better understand it," says Denny Nau, the Centre County Sheriff.  "It doesn't matter if the person is under arrest or they're going to impound the vehicle, if police have probable cause, then that vehicle can be searched."

Sheriff Nau defined probable cause as anything giving police some indication a crime was committed or "fruits of the crime" are in the vehicle.  The sheriff says the changes aren't too drastic.

"They have to have a reason," says Sheriff Nau.  "They just can't start pulling vehicles over to search them but once they pull them over - with probable cause - and then with probable cause, the can search the vehicle."

Defense lawyers say the ruling is a game changer.

"It certainly makes it harder to defense a case based on search and seizure grounds in Pennsylvania," says Sean McGraw, an attorney with Andrew J. Shubin Law Firm in State College.

People say they have concerns about the new ruling.

"I think it's really important that police have the tools to be able to enforce the laws really effectively," says Doug Root, a Pittsburgh resident visiting the area.  "But there are lines that could be crosses in terms of what applies to search and seizure."

"I always feel like if you don't have something to hide, you really shouldn't worry about it," says Brian Mehalick from State College.

McGraw says people should have other worries with the new ruling.

"Anytime there is a judicial ruling that cuts on individual freedoms, it is a source of concern," says McGraw.

The changes to the law puts Pennsylvania in line with federal law and a number of other states laws.

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