Are Speed Traps Allowed on Private Property?

Written by Gregory Monte.

I am in the process of writing an eBook on how to effectively fight speeding tickets in Pennsylvania.  It will serve as a nice complement to my other eBook on fighting stop sign tickets – The Pennsylvania Stop Sign Ticket Defense.

I mention this because in my speeding ticket research, I came across a 1988 case from the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas – Commonwealth v. Gauhs, 50 Pa. D. & C. 3d 583 – which answered the question posed in the blog post title.

This was the only case I could find that directly addressed the issue of speed traps set up on private property.  The judge was very concise in his answer as the decision was no more than 1 ¼ pages long:

While operating the radar device, the trooper was parked in a private driveway adjoining a public roadway … The testimony at hearing failed to disclose that the officer was, as defendant alleges, a trespasser on private property. A similar argument was rejected by the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County in Commonwealth v. White, 73 D. & C. 191 (1933), where the presence of police officers on private property without consent of the owner was held not to be a basis to exclude evidence obtained by them in a criminal proceeding.”

It’s All About “Curtilage” and it Applies in All States

Based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984), the reasoning of the Pennsylvania Court in Gauhs would appear to apply everywhere in the country.  While the Supreme Court acknowledged that there is a 4th Amendment issue when the police obtain evidence on private property, it all depends on exactly how “private” that property actually is.

“We conclude, as did the Court in deciding Hester v. United States, that the government’s intrusion upon the open fields is not one of those “unreasonable searches” proscribed by the text of the Fourth Amendment.”

In other words, it all comes down to curtilage – the land immediately surrounding and associated with your house.

Returning to Pennsylvania, in Commonwealth v. Beamer, Pa: Superior Court 2015, the court concluded that the …

“… police did not invade the curtilage of the defendant’s home by walking on the driveway, as the driveway was accessible by the general public … Since the driveway was accessible to the public, this Court concluded the driveway was a lawful vantage point from which police could observe …

When you combine the decision in Commonwealth v. Gauhs, 50 Pa. D. & C. 3d 583 1988 with the information contained in Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 180 (1984) and the more recent Commonwealth v. Beamer, Pa: Superior Court 2015, it’s pretty clear that cops can set up speed traps on private property.


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