I have written many articles, done videos, and podcast focused on probable cause and reasonable suspicion. Some may say that I spend way too much time discussing or explaining these concepts but these issues truly are often the strongest defense in the majority of illegal drug, narcotic, gun, firearm and even drunk driving cases. If police don’t have probable cause to stop a car, what they find after that point really doesn’t matter!
Up until about 3 weeks ago, myself and any criminal defense attorney worth his or her weight would have told you that probable for vehicle stop was normally restricted to either a moving violation or an issue with the vehicle. While there are some exceptions, the majority of probable cause arguments centered on these issues. If the police officer could not articulate a reason for the stop based on either of these issues, a court, in most cases, would find all evidence found after the stop inadmissible. The COVID lockdown, however, has changed all of it and there is really no precedent to determine how courts will deal with these cases moving forward.
Right now, there are Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Police officer patrolling highways and roads not looking for speeders but OUT OF STATE drivers specifically New York residents attempting to shelter or flee into Pennsylvania or New Jersey due to the wide spread of the virus in New York City. While I have yet to receive any phone calls from New York residents stopped in PA or NJ for this issue, I firmly believe we will see them in the coming weeks or months.
Remember once police stop a car or vehicle, they are permitted to investigate other possible crimes such as the illegal possession of any drug, narcotic or an illegal gun. Keep in mind that vehicle searches without a warrant are legal in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. After a stop, police can search a car without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that it contains contraband. Right now, because of the shutdown we could have a lot of criminal cases that start with vehicle stops that would normally be unconstitutional. There are many who are already claiming that these executive orders pertaining to gathering, social distancing and face masks aren’t enforceable. There is no way to tell right now because all courts are closed except for emergency bail petitions.
If you are charged with a crime and you believe the stop was based simply on your license plate, contact our criminal defense law firm for help. We’ve had great success handling cases where probable cause is an issue. We wish you and your family the best during this shutdown. Our law firm is here and ready to meet the challenge.