What is Probable Cause?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “probable cause” plenty of times before, whether on television shows or in person, but do you know what the phrase really means? Probable cause is a legal term used to explain why police officers make an arrest. Before arresting someone, an officer must have sufficient cause to believe that person guilty of a crime. Without probable cause, an arrest is declared unlawful.

When Does Probable Cause Exist?

Probable cause is necessary for more than just arrests. An officer must also cite probable cause before conducting a search or seizing property in relation to an alleged crime. This right stems from the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the rights and privacies of all American citizens. In other words, officers may not take action until there is some proof that the law has been broken.

Common instances where officers may use probable cause to search may include:

  • Searching with consent from the property owner or person in charge
  • The property is connected to a lawful arrest
  • An emergency situation where there is a threat to public safety or the loss of evidence

Defining Probable Cause

So, what could be considered a probable cause? Whether used to make an arrest, seize property, or to search, there are many ways in which probable cause can exist. It could be as straightforward as the arresting officer witnessing the crime take place first-hand, or the information could have come from another trusted source. For an arrest, probable cause may consist of the officer suspecting a person of a crime based on the facts and circumstances the officer has witnessed. An officer may have probable cause to seize property if he or she sees contraband evidence or stolen items.

Probable cause can sometimes be subjective, which often makes it difficult to prove or contest in court. However, the law states that an officer’s conviction must be based on facts, not whims or gut feelings.

If you believe you may have been arrested without probable cause, or your property was searched or seized without either probable cause or a warrant, you may have a case. Any evidence seized without probable cause is inadmissible, and you may be able to see your charges reduced or dismissed.

Contact Joey Gilbert Law to discuss your legal situation regarding probable cause.

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