In late December 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed its stance on the 2014 opinion in Commonwealth v. Gary . In that case, the courts ruled law enforcement was within its purview to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles. However, with the appeal brought on behalf of an individual who admitted to driving after smoking marijuana and surrendering a bag of pot to the police, the judges now decided officers did not have the right to open and search a locked metal box behind the driver’s seat, which was found to contain 10 bundles of heroin, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer . Rather, the majority of jurists concluded citizens have a right to privacy for their vehicles as they do to their homes, thereby requiring police to obtain warrants before searching cars.
Len Sosnov of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, who served as co-counsel in the appeals case, said to the newspaper that the decision leans toward preserving the rights of citizens without imposing undue hardships on police because smartphone technology enables law enforcement to more quickly obtain warrants digitally. Additionally, police may still conduct warrantless searches when they have reason to believe there is probable cause or exigent circumstances demand urgency.
Immediately following the decision, the Philadelphia Police Department announced it was initiating a review of policies and rules. “We strive to have this completed as soon as possible so that any and all necessary changes can be communicated to our officers in a timely manner,” a PPD spokesperson told the newspaper.