The Lawletter Vol 39 No 4
A plurality of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, with one justice concurring in the result, recently held that where a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is supported by probable cause, article I, section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution affords no greater protection than does the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Commonwealth v. Gary, No. 26 EAP 2012, 2014 WL 1686766 (Pa. Apr. 29, 2014). Accordingly, the court adopted the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement, which allows police officers to search a motor vehicle when there is probable cause to do so and does not require any exigency beyond the inherent mobility of the motor vehicle.
In so holding, the court examined the history of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the issue of warrantless searches of vehicles, as well as its own history of decisions on the issue, which sometimes indicated that exigent circumstances are required in addition to probable cause, thus diverging from U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court recognized that as its detailed review of its jurisprudence in the area of automobile searches demonstrated, it "has been unable to articulate a consistent, clear, and readily applicable majority expression of the automobile exception to the warrant requirement." Id. at *19. The court concluded that there was no compelling reason to interpret its constitution as providing greater protection with regard to warrantless searches of motor vehicles than does the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, Gary held that in Pennsylvania, the law governing warrantless searches of motor vehicles is coextensive with federal law under the Fourth Amendment. "The prerequisite for a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is probable cause to search; no exigency beyond the inherent mobility of a motor vehicle is required." Id. at *32