On December 22, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Alexander overruled its 2014 plurality decision in Commonwealth v. Gary and reaffirmed its prior decisions holding that Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides greater privacy protections to motorists than the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, the PA Supreme Court held that under the PA Constitution, obtaining a warrant to search a vehicle is the default rule, and warrantless vehicle searches require both probable cause and exigent circumstances that made obtaining a warrant not reasonably practicable. Prior to this decision, law enforcement in Pennsylvania were regularly searching vehicles based on probable cause alone, without any exigent circumstances, based on the Gary court’s decision adopting the federal “automobile exception” to the warrant requirement based on the inherent mobility of vehicles and their extensive regulation.
If you or a loved one have criminal charges pending in Pennsylvania that involve evidence seized as a direct or indirect result of a vehicle search, you should be sure to seek the advice of an attorney regarding whether that evidence can be suppressed based on the holding in Commonwealth v. Alexander. The attorneys at Keenan, Ciccitto & Associates, LLP are ready to help with your case today.