Pennsylvania drivers stopped for traffic offenses are always in peril of police intruding on their right of privacy in their vehicles. Even though police generally require a warrant or probable cause to search your car or truck, there are exceptions recognized by law. In a recent example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a defendant’s conviction and held that a police officer legally seized a firearm that was in plain view in a vehicle.

The case, Commonwealth v. Markee Davis, stems from a traffic stop related to Davis’ speeding down 22nd Street in Philadelphia. Davis could not produce his driver’s license, registration or insurance information. He then attempted to drive away, but an officer opened the door and pulled Davis out of the car. Davis was placed in the patrol car while the police investigated the ownership of the vehicle. In looking for the VIN number, an officer saw a black semi-automatic handgun on the vehicle’s floor. Davis was asked if he a permit for the gun, to which he replied he did not. Davis was arrested and the gun was collected along with other evidence.

In the criminal case that followed, Davis filed a motion to suppress the gun, claiming there was an illegal search. The trial court denied the motion because the handgun was found in plain view. Generally, officers may discover and collect evidence that is in their plain view during an otherwise legal investigation, even without a warrant.

On appeal, Davis argued that the police also needed to demonstrate exigent circumstances, which generally mean there is a compelling need for police action and no time to secure a warrant. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed. They held that because the officers saw the gun from a lawful vantage point, and the gun was incriminating because it was possessed without a permit, the police had a lawful right to seize it — even without exigent circumstances.

While the Supreme Court overruled Davis’ arguments because of the facts of his case, many searches of a vehicle can be suppressed. Even in Davis’ case, other evidence was suppressed because the officer improperly searched other parts of the vehicle.

Officers make mistakes and may violate the constitutional rights of those they search. A knowledgeable Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney knows what to look for and how to take effective action to suppress illegally obtained evidence. This may make a significant difference in your case.

Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law in Somerset, Pennsylvania has more than 25 years of experience representing drivers arrested in traffic stops. Contact us online or call 814-443-1631 for a consultation on your case.