What Is Probable Cause?

Get a free consultation now
Probable Cause

Probable cause is a legal concept used to determine whether the police have sufficient reason to arrest someone or search their property. It’s important to understand what probable cause is and how it affects your rights, especially if you are charged with a crime. 

Probable Cause Defined

Probable Cause Defined

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by governmental entities like law enforcement officers or agencies.

Under this amendment, police must have probable cause before conducting searches and making arrests if they want their resulting evidence to be admissible in court during a criminal trial.

Probable cause is defined as a reasonable basis to believe that an individual committed a crime or that evidence of a crime exists in a particular place to be searched. The burden of proof for establishing probable cause rests with the prosecutor in criminal cases.

What Constitutes Probable Cause? 

When determining whether probable cause exists, courts will consider both direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence could include things like eyewitness testimony or video footage. 

Circumstantial evidence could include things like suspicious behavior, reports of criminal activity in the area, or information provided by informants who have knowledge of illegal activities occurring on the premises being searched.

In some cases, courts may also consider other factors, such as previous convictions or outstanding warrants, when determining whether probable cause exists for a particular search.

How Does Probable Cause Affect Your Rights?

Probable cause plays an important role in deciding whether police officers can legally search you, your home, or your vehicle without obtaining a warrant first. It also dictates whether a police officer has the right to arrest you.

Without probable cause, police officers must obtain a warrant from a judge before they can enter your home or vehicle and begin searching for evidence of criminal activity. 

Probable cause must be based on facts rather than speculation. This requirement helps protect citizens from unjustified searches and seizures and prevents police officers from making arrests without any solid evidence of wrongdoing. 

Probable Cause Exceptions 

It is important to note that there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if an individual voluntarily consents to having their property searched, no warrant is necessary, and no probable cause needs to be established for the search to take place legally.  The same is true if a person consents to a search of their car or their person.

Additionally, the plain view doctrine allows police officers to seize evidence without a warrant if it is in plain view during the course of their investigation. For example, if an officer is searching a room for drugs and sees a gun on the table, they can legally seize the gun even though it wasn’t specified in the warrant. 

Another exception occurs after an individual is arrested, known as the search incident to arrest exception. This allows police officers to search an arrested person and the area directly around them without obtaining a search warrant. 

The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

Suppose there was no probable cause present when police searched your property or arrested you. Any evidence obtained as part of that search or subsequent to your arrest may not be allowed into court because it was illegally obtained. 

This is known as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, which holds that any evidence obtained through illegal means cannot be used against a defendant in court.

Even if a piece of evidence would normally be allowed due to its relevance and reliability, if it was obtained by means that violated a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, it cannot be used in court.

Reasonable Suspicion Is Different Than Probable Cause

Under the Fourth Amendment, police must have probable cause to make an arrest, but they may detain individuals if there is reasonable suspicion that a person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime. This means that if the officer has reasonable suspicion that someone is engaged in criminal activity, they have the right to stop and question that individual.  

The officer must be able to articulate facts that demonstrate why they believe someone has committed or will commit a crime.

These facts should be founded on specific observations rather than speculation or a hunch. The amount of evidence needed to establish reasonable suspicion is far less than what would be required to meet the “probable cause” standard.

Contact a San Jose Criminal Defense Lawyer If Your Rights Were Violated

When facing criminal charges, it’s important for you to understand what constitutes probable cause and how it affects your rights as an individual charged with a crime. 

If you feel like your rights were violated during a search or arrest, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced San Jose criminal attorney who can help protect your rights and ensure justice is served in your case.

Call Now Button