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What is “probable cause,” and why is it important?

by | Jun 19, 2021 | Uncategorized

Probable cause refers to the quality and quantity of information that police need to carry out certain actions. If probable cause is missing or not sufficient, then evidence or testimony that has been collected could be thrown out of court. 

This means that police must do their due diligence to make sure that they have sufficient probable cause, else anything they do afterward could be inadmissible in court. 

What facts or circumstances constitute probable cause?

Police must believe that the facts or circumstances that are known to the officer would reasonably lead them to believe one or more of the following:

  • The person they are arresting was involved in the commission of a crime.
  • The location that they are searching was the scene of a crime or contains evidence of a crime.
  • Their actions were necessary to stop a crime that was in progress.
  • They needed to confiscate property because it was illegal (like drugs) or related to something illegal (like drug money).

As one can see from the three pillars of probable cause, arrest, search and seizure all rest upon the foundation of probable cause. Probable cause is quite possibly one of the most important legal concepts of criminal law. If a police officer cannot articulate the reason for their actions, they may not be able to justify an arrest or charge — and that can translate into a dismissed case for the defendant.

Deciding if probable cause was sufficient for an arrest or a criminal charge depends on specific facts of the case. It is wise to obtain legal counsel that is experienced in criminal defense and dedicated to defending the rights of those whose cases rest on insufficient probable cause.