The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Law enforcement may only arrest an individual or search/seize their property if there is a warrant or there is probable cause. Understanding this principle can help you know your rights. This can be important if you are being accused of a crime.
When Probable Cause Applies
To establish probable cause, it is necessary to demonstrate that a reasonable person would believe that a crime had been, was being, or was going to be committed. There must be objective facts and observations that point to this conclusion. Law enforcement officers must have probable cause to obtain a warrant or to arrest/search a person without a warrant.
It can be difficult to determine whether or not probable cause was present during a specific search or arrest. This is because this is affected not only by the Fourth Amendment but also by a variety of court cases as well as local, state, and federal laws. A judge will make the final determination. A law enforcement officer may believe they had probable cause to search a vehicle. However, a defense attorney might be able to demonstrate that this was not the case. Conversely, you may believe a search was unreasonable, but a court would rule otherwise. The complicated nature of probable cause is one reason why it's important to work with a criminal defense attorney if you are facing charges.
Probable Cause vs Reasonable Suspicion
Reasonable suspicion is when there is an indication that a crime could be happening, has happened, or is about to happen. This has to be more than just a hunch. However, the barrier for reasonable suspicion is lower than for probable cause. A law enforcement officer can have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring based on their experience and observation. However, they do not need to have concrete facts. Reasonable suspicion allows an officer to detain a person for further questioning, but they cannot conduct a search or arrest you unless they can establish probable cause.
Consenting to a Search
A law enforcement officer does not need probable cause for a search if you consent. Because many people do not know their rights, they may consent to a search without realizing their right to refuse. If you believe a police officer does not have cause to search you, you should say that you do not consent to the search. In the case that the officer continues the search anyway, you should continue to voice that you do not consent and request a lawyer, but do not under any circumstances physically resist the search or try to stop the officer.
Are You Facing Criminal Charges?
After an arrest, you may be overwhelmed and unsure of what your options are. Our criminal defense attorneys can examine the facts of your case to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
If you believe law enforcement arrested you without probable cause, contact us for a free consultation.