What Is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is one of the most important concepts in deciding when it’s appropriate for the police to arrest, search, or stop an individual for questioning. This Fourth Amendment law rooted in the Bill of Rights has continued to evolve through state and federal decisions over the years, so if you or someone you know if being charged with a crime, it’s important to understand what it means today. So what exactly is probable cause and who does it protect?
Probable Cause in Criminal Law
Probable cause refers to the requirement that police must have an adequate reason, based on supporting facts and circumstances, to make an arrest, search for evidence, or stop someone for questioning. The concept is based on the right of a person to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It also further specifies that a search warrant cannot be issued unless there is a probable cause for doing so.
The Supreme Court has defined “seizure” as both the seizure of evidence and of a person during an arrest. The officer must be able to provide sufficient facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a particular crime has been committed by the suspected individual in order for a legal search, seizure or arrest to occur.
Probable Cause to Search
Probable cause to search is based on the facts and circumstances provided leading a reasonable person to believe that the crime was committed at the location to be searched or the evidence exists within this location. In this case, a search warrant must specify the place to be searched, however, there are also cases in which a search warrant isn’t required. Some of which include:
● With the consent from the person in charge or ownership of the premises
● When conducting certain searches connected to a lawful arrest
● When the public safety or loss of the evidence is threatened
● If contraband is “in plain sight” when the officer has the right to be present
Probable Cause to Seize Property
A police officer has probable cause to seize a particular property when the facts and circumstances support the reasonable belief that the item is contraband, is stolen, or is considered evidence to a crime.
With a search warrant, the police may only search for items covered within the warrant. But if they discover any other evidence or contraband during their search, it may be seized as well. Conversely, If there is no warrant in play, and the search proves to be illegal, the evidence cannot be used against the defendant under the “exclusionary rule.” The judge will make the final decision on this based on arguments from both sides of the case.
Probable Cause to Arrest
If the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge are enough for a reasonable person to believe the suspect has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or will commit a crime, then there is probable cause to arrest that individual.
However, short of arrests, there are “detentions,” which do not require probable cause. These temporary restraints, including car stops, pedestrian stops, and occupants while police obtain a search warrant, only require “reasonable suspicion.” While this term is often used interchangeably with probable cause, they are in fact very different.
What is Reasonable Suspicion?
Reasonable suspicion is the idea that a police officer must believe a crime has occurred or may occur using the facts and circumstances of the specific situation based on their professional skills and training. An example of this may include pulling over a car that swerves multiple lanes to see if the driver is under the influence.
If you or a family member were arrested or convicted of a crime, you have rights under The Fourth Amendment. If you are searching legal advice based on your detainment and whether or not your right to the probable cause was violated, contact our lawyers to discuss your case and get the protection you deserve.