What goes into a police officer's decision to act while in the field and place a citizen under arrest? Whether law enforcement officers witness a crime take place right in front of them or only suspect a crime might be taking place, their intervention is governed by a principle known as probable cause.
What Is Probable Cause?
In the simplest terms, probable cause is witnessed, confirmable evidence that a crime has taken place, is taking place, or is about to take place. When an officer can substantiate this probable cause, they have the legal power to intervene in a situation to protect the public and place the suspected offenders under arrest.
To better understand how this concept works, imagine two scenarios in which officers knock on the door of a house that, according to an anonymous tip, is the site of drug activity. In scenario A, the officers knock on the door and there is no answer. Because the anonymous tip from a third party does not constitute probable cause, the officers must leave the property.
In scenario B, the officers knock on the door and hear screams from inside. No one seems to respond to their calls from the porch and a gunshot sounds from inside the house. The screams and the gunshot now give the officers probable cause to enter the house without a warrant: they have confirmable evidence indicates a crime is being committed.
What Happens if There Is No Probable Cause?
Probable cause restrictions were put in place to protect our Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. Establishing probable cause is one of only three ways law enforcement officers are allowed to legally search your property and your person.
Police can only search your property and your person when they:
- Establish probable cause
- Acquire a warrant from a judge
- Receive permission from a citizen to search
If you believe that your arrest included a lack of probable cause, then it is critical that you speak to defense counsel immediately. These types of violations are not only common, but can have a dramatic effect in a criminal case. It is not uncommon in for the charges against defendants to be voided and thrown out due to law enforcement's failure to establish appropriate probable cause.
If you or a loved one has been accused of a serious criminal act, then we invite you to contact Law Office of Kevin F. Moot today. Attorney Moot is a former Major Violent Crimes Prosecutor with a unique and insightful understanding of how our local criminal justice system works. He knows how the state of Florida pursues criminal convictions and what can be done to protect the rights and reputations of his clients.
Do not wait to start building an effective defense. Call our Broward County criminal defense lawyer today to start exploring your defense options.