What is Probable Cause
Probable cause is loosely defined as a reasonable belief that an individual has, is, or will commit a crime. In order to prove probable cause, a police officer must have factual knowledge and evidence for a judge to sign off on a warrant for arrest as well as the search and/or seizure of property.
Establishing Probable Cause
Although factual evidence must be provided to prove probable cause, police are not expected to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at this stage. They simply need to provide sufficient knowledge of objective facts that support their belief that a person may have committed a crime.
Sources of probable cause can come from any of the following categories:
- Observation – This can include information an officer collects through sight, smell or sound. For example, the smell or visual evidence of drugs give an officer probable cause for an arrest, search and seizure of evidence.
- Circumstantial evidence – This is evidence that indirectly indicates that a crime has been committed (for example, a broken window). Although this evidence does not prove guilt, it does provide probable cause in an investigation.
- Expertise – Police officers are trained to identify movements, gestures and tools that indicate criminal activity. Their expertise in this area can provide sufficient evidence for a judge to sign off on probable cause.
- Information – This includes statements taken from witnesses, victims and informants.
- Consent – When a defendant voluntarily agrees to a search, probable cause is automatically established.
- Traffic Violations – To justify a traffic stop, an officer must personally observe a violation. This could include running a stoplight, weaving across lanes or failing to signal, just to name a few.
Who determines if Probable Cause Exists
Although the police officer must provide the evidence to establish probable cause, a judge will give the final determination. There is no set amount of information required to prove probable cause, so the judge must balance the rights of the police to conduct an investigation with the rights of the individual, which are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In some situations, police will establish probable cause in the moment and make an arrest. In these cases, a judge may later determine that the evidence the officers acted on was not sufficient, making any evidence collected inadmissible in court.
For this reason, obtaining an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. Skip Potter offers tough, aggressive legal advice and representation that will help you make sound decisions when handling your legal issues. Don’t wait, call today for a free, confidential consultation at 419.353.7547.