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No More Probable Cause for Smell of Marijuana Only

The landscape of warrantless motor vehicle searches in Pennsylvania changed drastically in 2020 when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overruled nearly half a century of precedence by ruling that the federal motor vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement for searches and seizures no longer applied. In addition, the high court held that due to the passage of Pennsylvania's Medical Marijuana Act, the smell of burnt marijuana alone could no longer be used by police as justification for probable cause to search a motor vehicle during a traffic stop. Now, police will be required to either gain consent to search or obtain a search warrant if they want to take a look inside of your car.

In Commonwealth v. Keith Alexander, defendant was pulled over by police for a motor vehicle violation. During the stop, the officer smelled burnt marijuana and asked Alexander if he had smoked marijuana. After answering yes, Alexander was arrested, removed from the vehicle, and his car was searched without a warrant. Prior to this case, Pennsylvania subscribed to the federal motor vehicle exception first announced by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Carroll, wherein due to inherent mobility of automobiles, the Court ruled that exigency always exists, and therefore, police could bypass the the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement to conduct searches and seizures. This led to police officers using traffic stops as a means to investigate more serious crimes. So, they'd pull someone over for a busted tail light and then turn their car upside down looking for drugs or firearms.

After Alexander that process is done. Now, when the police believe a driver has committed a more serious crime, they must apply for a search warrant. Moreover, in obtaining the probable cause necessary to procure a warrant, they cannot use the age-old excuse of "I smell weed" as their only reason for probable cause. They have to have MORE.

If you've been pulled over by police and your vehicle was searched because the police claim they smelled marijuana, which led to the filing of more serious criminal charges, give my office a call TODAY.

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