- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pennsylvania police officers no longer need a warrant to search a citizen’s vehicle, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Drivers in the state used to be able to refuse a warrantless search, but now their vehicles can be subject to search when a police officer determines there is “reasonable probable cause” to do so, the Intelligencer Journal reported.

The high court’s ruling, passed on a 4-2 vote, is being called a drastic change in citizens’ rights and police authority, the paper said.

“This is a significant change in long-standing Pennsylvania criminal law, and it is a good one,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman. “This case gives the police simpler guidelines to follow and (it) finally and clearly renders our law consistent with established federal law.”

“It is a ruling that helps law enforcement as they continue to find people in possession of illegal drugs,” said New Holland police Lt. Jonathan Heisse.

But critics say the ruling gives too much power to the police and will infringe on citizens’ privacy.

“It’s an expanding encroachment of government power,” defense attorney Jeffrey Conrad told the paper. “It’s a protection we had two days ago, that we don’t have today. It’s disappointing from a citizens’ rights perspective.”

In a dissent, Justice Debra Todd said the decision “contravenes over 225 years of unyielding protection against unreasonable search and seizure.” She calls the change “diametrically contrary to the deep historical and legal traditions” of Pennsylvania.

• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at jchasmar@washingtontimes.com.

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