Vehicle Search Laws in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia residents who are pulled over for a traffic stop may wonder if police officers are allowed to search their vehicles without a warrant. According to an article by, last year it became legal for law enforcement to conduct warrantless vehicle searches in Pennsylvania. Previously, authorities were required to obtain a warrant before they could search someone’s car for drugs or other illegal items, or they needed a car owner’s consent to search.

Proponents of the new law say that this bring Pennsylvania in line with federal laws, which allow vehicle searches without a search warrant. If police officers have probable cause, or a reason to suspect that someone in a vehicle has possession of an illegal substance or intends to commit a crime, they are allowed to conduct a warrantless search.

However, civil liberties groups disagree. They say that this violates citizens’ rights to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, and gives police more power to do harm.

If a controlled or illegal substance is found in the vehicle, there can be serious consequences. For example, The Pennsylvania Code states that individuals found in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana can face 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Other potential penalties can include:

  • Up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine for more than 30 grams of marijuana.
  • Doubled penalties for a second marijuana offense.
  • One year in prison and a $5,000 fine for the possession of other controlled substances.
  • Increased jail time for subsequent drug convictions.
  • Minimum of five years in prison for possessing more than five grams of cocaine.

Those who have been accused of drug possession after a vehicle search, or at any time, are entitled to fair treatment in court.