For many people, few things are more dreaded in daily life than seeing the blue, flashing lights behind you. A police stop can be a stressful, harrowing experience. It can be even more stressful when the police search your vehicle as part of the stop. You might find yourself wondering, “When can the police search a vehicle in Pennsylvania?” Our criminal defense attorney Richard Fink explains when the police can search a vehicle in Pennsylvania:
The police can search a vehicle in Pennsylvania when they have probable cause to believe that criminal activity may be occurring. In other words, if the police have a reasonable belief that there might be drugs or other illegal activity going on with the driver, with the vehicle’s occupants or inside the vehicle, they can search the vehicle. The suspicion of criminal activity must be reasonable to a neutral person based on the facts. If the police have a valid reason to believe that you might be committing a crime, they can search your vehicle in Pennsylvania.
Probable cause is a reasonable belief that criminal behavior may have occurred or may be occurring. It’s more than just a hunch. A law enforcement officer doesn’t have probable cause based on prior criminal history, based on the way someone is dressed or based on what they’re wearing. Instead, probable cause is based on facts that the law enforcement officer can articulate. Usually, probable cause is the legal standard for when a law enforcement officer can conduct a search or make an arrest.
For example, seeing a bag of drugs on the floor of a vehicle is probable cause that there may be drugs in the vehicle. A driver appearing high may be probable cause that there are drugs in the vehicle. However, having prior police contacts with someone is not probable cause. Whether the law enforcement officer has probable cause to search the vehicle depends on the specific facts of the case.
No, suspicion is not enough for probable cause. Suspicion is formed by beliefs. It is subjective. Probable cause, on the other hand, can be based only on actual, objective facts. No matter how much someone thinks criminal activity may be happening, they must have reasonable, objective, non-biased facts to point to in order to have probable cause. Probable cause is more than suspicion, and suspicion alone is not probable cause.
No, being a felon is not probable cause. A law enforcement officer doesn’t have legal grounds to conduct a search or make an arrest simply because someone is a felon. However, if you’re on probation or parole, a condition of your release may be that you submit to a search or drug testing at the request of a law enforcement officer. However, simply being a felon is not probable cause.
Do you have questions about the police searching your vehicle? Are you facing criminal charges? Criminal defense attorney Richard Fink can help. The Law Offices of Richard Fink can review your case and the vehicle search that occurred in your case. Call us today for an immediate consultation.