New Search Rule in Pennsylvania

A few people have sent this along, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted new rules on vehicle searches. My first impression was that I had no idea Pennsylvania instituted a stricter standard on search than the feds. This ruling basically brings Pennsylvania in line with the federal standards, which is what most states follow. It’s frequent that state courts tend to defer to the Supreme Court view on such things. I’m not saying I agree with the ruling, since I generally disagree with the deference state courts give federal court rulings, but it’s not a disaster. The standard for getting a warrant is probable cause anyway, so you still have issues with police manufacturing probable cause (dogs are great for that) even under the old system, but without the requirement to formally obtain a warrant.

4 thoughts on “New Search Rule in Pennsylvania”

  1. Back in the late ’90s Republican AG Mike Fisher pushed a package of bills that were intended to circumvent that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was, at that time, stricter on search-and-seizure standards and other related civil liberties issues than the SCOTUS. Fisher would have legislated that our courts were required to adhere to federal standards. In effect the legislation would have repealed one or more of the sections of our state constitution’s “Declaration of Rights,” Article I, which is equivalent to the federal Bill of Rights, but arguably demands higher standards. Much or most of the grassroots gun rights community in the state contributed to defeating Fisher’s anti-civil-liberties legislation, working with the ACLU at the time.

    About a year later the NRA called a quasi-secret meeting of state gun groups and personalities in Harrisburg. The top level purpose was an attempt to mend fences with our gun rights community, that had been estranged from the NRA over their support for Governor Tom Ridge’s gun control package passed by the Republicans in 1995. The other agenda item was to present Mike Fisher with a “Defender of Justice” award for having supported so much Hang’em High, anti-civil-liberties legislation, even if it had not been successful. That would be useful to them in the future, when the anti-gun Fisher ran for governor himself, and the NRA would need an excuse for supporting him, other than that his opponent was allegedly “worse.” Mike Fisher became “anti-crime.” Tanya Metaksa ran the meeting.

    Most pro-gun state factions including myself boycotted the portion of the meeting where Fisher was to be presented his award. His being anti-gun and anti-civil-liberties was too much for most of us to tolerate. I subsequently walked out on the “mending fences” portion of the meeting, but apparently it was successful, because most people present would follow the NRA’s lead, and jump on Fisher’s bandwagon when he ran for governor a couple years down the road. My group, having a collective memory, did not, but I won’t pretend that contributed anything to Fisher’s well-deserved loss in November.

  2. I’ve always wondered whether having an NRA sticker on your car or truck could constitute Probable Cause in an anti-gun state. For example, NJ’s convoluted laws regarding proper firearm transport require no stops. I never put a sticker on my truck when I lived there because I didn’t want to give police any excuses to search my vehicle, find a gun, and then figure out that I stopped for gas on the way home from the shooting range.

    I would much prefer police to need a warrant first. It means they would have to find a judge and explain that they want to search my vehicle based only on a political sticker. That’s much better than me having to tell a judge that I was unlawfully searched due to a political sticker–after I’ve already been charged with a crime, posted 10% bail I’ll never get back, had my guns confiscated, been written up in the newspaper, and spent thousands on lawyer fees.

    Pennsylvanian’s don’t have as much to worry about with gun laws, and most anti-gun states are based on probable cause anyway, but I prefer warrants. The more people who stand between me and a search the better.

    1. I see a lot of New Jersey tagged vehicles on the Turnpike each morning with NRA stickers. I don’t know whether they are crazy, crazy brave, or just ignorant. But in NJ, a sticker makes you subject to search. Transporting firearms is illegal. Everything else is just an affirmative defense.

    2. The funny thing is, our transport laws for handguns are identical to yours. The only difference is that it’s very easy to get a License to Carry here to exempt you from those requirements.

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