For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 10

PRACTICE POINTERS FOR THE
POST-ALEXANDER WORLD:
ALEXANDER MARKS A SEA
CHANGE IN SUPPRESSION LAW1
Robert Perkins
and Andrew Capone
O
n December 22, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court handed down its landmark decision in
Commonwealth v. Alexander.2,3
overruled the Court's earlier decision in Commonwealth
v. Gary4
on probable cause alone - and held that under Art. I ยง 8
of the Pa. Constitution, " both probable cause and exigent
circumstances " are necessary to justify a warrantless
car search.5
How Courts Have Interpreted Alexander So Far
Alexander
-which permitted warrantless car searches based
Because warrantless car searches based on
probable cause alone were a common police tactic in
Pennsylvania, we estimate that the Alexander decision
immediately impacted hundreds of pending cases. And
while the Commonwealth will certainly adjust and devise
new ways to try and justify searches post-Alexander, there
is no question that Alexander will continue to have an
outside impact on suppression litigation going forward.
While the Alexander decision is important for many
reasons, the focus of this article is to examine Alexander's
impact on pretrial suppression litigation and to offer
strategies for successfully litigating a suppression motion
in the post-Alexander world.
10 For The Defense l Vol. 6, Issue 2
We reviewed every Alexander-related opinion in
Pennsylvania that we could get our hands on at the time
of this writing. Here is what we learned. As of April 19,
2021, at the appellate court level, only two published
Superior Court opinions cited Alexander. Neither case
discussed Alexander in great depth.6
In the first decision-
Commonwealth v. Shaw-the Court reversed the trial
court's finding that the warrantless search of defendant's
car based on probable cause alone was lawful in light
of Alexander, and remanded for additional fact-finding
focused on whether exigent circumstances were present.7
In the second case, Commonwealth v. Grooms, the Court
held that defendant waived the Alexander issue because
he failed to specifically argue that the search violated the
Pennsylvania constitution.8
We were also able to collect and review trial court
opinions from several counties. Each of the cases involved
a warrantless car search allegedly based on probable

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

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