In criminal cases, probable cause must be met before law enforcement may make arrests, conduct searches, seize property and obtain warrants. Probable cause has direct ties to the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from illegal searches and seizures of their person, home and business.
Police must have more than a suspicion, but not necessarily absolute certainty for probable cause to come into play. For example, they must have supporting evidence and facts for them to have probable cause in order to arrest someone or search them or the property and seize evidence. In court, judges must determine the existence of probable cause that the defendant committed the crime before prosecution.
Probable cause based on facts for an arrest
Probable cause is when a reasonable person suspects that a crime was about to take place, was currently taking place or had already taken place. By having probable cause, authorities have enough reason to obtain a search or arrest warrant.
Probable cause also provides law enforcement with enough reasoning to arrest someone if they observe a crime taking place. In an arrest, probable cause must be based on facts and not assumptions.
Probable cause vs reasonable suspicion
“Reasonable suspicion” has ties to probable cause but represents a step that takes place before probable cause. Reasonable suspicion comes into play if it appears a crime took place. When it becomes obvious that a crime most likely occurred, the situation elevates to probable cause.
Reasonable suspicion is defined as any reasonable person would believe that a crime occurred, was about to take place or was in the process of taking place. If law enforcement has reasonable suspicion, they may briefly frisk and detain suspects. It is not enough to seek an arrest or search warrant.
Seek a legal ally
If you find yourself under arrest and question whether authorities violated your rights, take action. Seek a legal advocate who can provide insight into your case.