It is the job of law enforcement both to solve crimes and prevent them from occurring. Importantly, they cannot do this in an arbitrary or prejudicial manner. Typically, for a search or an arrest to proceed, there must be a presence of probable cause — or the reasonable belief that a crime has happened.
While probable cause is a common term, it is rarely defined. Highlighting some practical examples of how probable cause works could help to boost your understanding and in turn your knowledge of your rights. Outlined below are a few things that contribute to the determination of probable cause:
The observation of police officers
Police officers are well-trained in how to detect criminal activity. They are constantly using the information they have at their disposal to spot the signs of potential criminal conduct. For instance, if people are standing on a street corner exchanging money and packages on a regular basis, then this is suspicious by anyone’s standards. This type of conduct would most likely amount to the probable cause required to conduct further investigations, detain suspects and make arrests.
Evidence at the scene
For law enforcement to conduct a search, they must generally have a reasonable suspicion that a criminal act has occurred. For instance, erratic driving may prompt a traffic stop — but it doesn’t give them enough probable cause to search the vehicle. However, if the stopped driver is wide-eyed, not making sense and a bag of white powder can be seen on the rear seat of the vehicle, this most likely provides officers with the probable cause required to carry out a search of the vehicle and make an arrest for drugged driving.
You should never be arrested on a hunch, there must be probable cause. If you believe that your arrest was unlawful, having legal guidance on your side will help you to obtain justice in your case.