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Commonwealth vs. Scott, Police Lacked Probable Cause to Search Vehicle

Commonwealth vs. Scott

On May 10, 2019, a panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a suppression order of the court of common pleas of Philadelphia, rejecting an appeal by the Commonwealth. The judges were Bender, Bowes, and Nichols. Judge Nichols wrote the opinion; Judge Bowes wrote a dissent.

The trial court had ruled that the police lacked probable cause to search the trunk of the defendant’s car (where a firearm was found) even though the police claimed that a strong odor of burnt marijuana came from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. The police needed to establish additional and specific facts to demonstrate that their search of the trunk was based on anything more than mere suspicion. There was no testimony that the defendant could access the trunk from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Therefore, the ruling of Judge Stella Tsai of the Philadelphia court of common pleas was affirmed.

Judge Bowes dissented on the ground that the majority wrongfully attempted to exempt the trunk compartment from a legitimate vehicle search, which approach has been rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States. United States v. Ross, 456 US 798, 821 (1982).

Benjamin Cooper of Philadelphia represented the Appellee.