Your Car is Your Castle – Sort of …

Written by Gregory Monte.

“A man’s home is his castle.”

Sir Edward Coke

Liberty minded individuals will understand the meaning of this quote, because the principle has been enshrined in the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause …”

Of course, when Coke made that famous statement back in the 17th century (and when the Founders wrote the Bill of Rights in the 18th), there were no cars.  But the application to vehicles was inevitable. 

The U.S. Supreme Court Weighs In

The U.S. Supreme commented on this issue in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 662, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1400-1401, 59 L.Ed.2d 660, 673 (1979):

“Automobile travel is a basic, pervasive, and often necessary mode of transportation to and from one’s home, workplace, and leisure activities. Many people spend more hours each day traveling in cars than walking on the streets. Undoubtedly, many find a greater sense of security and privacy in traveling in an automobile than they do in exposing themselves by pedestrian or other modes of travel.”

When you boil it all down, the Court properly described it as a choice between individual privacy vs. the interests of the state acting through the police.  In Prouse, the Court expressed it this way:

“An individual operating or traveling in an automobile does not lose all reasonable expectation of privacy simply because the automobile and its use are subject to government regulation.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Weighs In

Which brings me to the title of this blog post.  There is no doubt that you have more protection against government interference in your life when you do things in your house.  But having acknowledged this, you still have a certain degree of protection in your car also.  In my daily reading of court cases, I constantly see situations where evidence obtained by the police in an illegal vehicle stop is thrown out, because a driver’s right to privacy was invaded.

Like the U.S. Supreme Court, Pennsylvania courts have generally upheld the protections of drivers against unlawful search and seizure.  Take the case of Commonwealth v. Swanger, 453 Pa. 107, 307 A.2d 875 (1973).  Even though the Commonwealth argued that the police should be allowed to stop any vehicle without cause (automobiles were dangerous and caused numerous deaths each year), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed:

“The interest on the other side was the individual’s personal liberty and the right to be free from governmental intrusions. This Court concluded that given these competing interests the interest of the individual outweighed that of the government.”

A Win for Liberty

I am the first to criticize judges, especially local ones, when it comes to their biases in traffic court.  Almost without fail, they believe police officers rather than defendants when testimony is presented.  The whole experience is often just a big scam where “revenue” is collected by the local authority at the expense of the everyday citizen who is just trying to live his life in peace. 

The higher courts, on the other hand, are often quite different in their attitude.  Maybe its because the judges are more intelligent or experienced, but whatever the reason, it is nice to see that they are more inclined to decide based on principles.  And there are no higher principles than those encapsulated in the Bill of Rights – especially the 4th Amendment.

If you received an unfair stop sign ticket and are pissed off enough to want to fight it, you may be interested in reading my free 23-page eBook: How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania. It is obviously geared to Pennsylvania residents, but the main suggestion to challenge the authorized placement of the stop sign is applicable in most states.


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