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London Personal Injury Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > Understanding The Concept Of Probable Cause

Understanding The Concept Of Probable Cause


In the U.S., the police must have probable cause in order to perform a search and seizure or arrest someone. Also, a police officer needs probable cause to get a warrant. Failure to adhere to this rule may lead to the illegal collection of evidence or an unlawful arrest. If an officer performs an unlawful search and seizes, that evidence will not be considered in a court of law. The following is more about probable cause.

Defining Probable Cause

As already mentioned, probable cause is something that law enforcement officers must have before conducting a search and seizure, making an arrest, or obtaining a warrant. But what exactly does the term “probable cause” mean? Usually, probable cause exists if there is a reasonable basis for believing that a person is;

  • committing a criminal offense
  • has committed a criminal offense
  • is planning to commit a criminal offense

The courts view probable cause as a practical but non-technical standard that requires the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent people act. Generally, suspicion alone is not enough when it comes to probable cause.

Circumstances Where Probable Cause Can Justify a Warrantless Search or Seizure

Sometimes, the police can perform a search and seizure without a warrant if they have probable cause. Under exigent circumstances, probable cause can justify a warrantless search or seizure. The following are some of the exigent circumstances that can justify a warrantless search or seizure;

  • A situation where the officer or another person is in immediate danger
  • A case where evidence faces imminent destruction
  • A situation where a suspect’s escape is imminent

Who Decides the Existence of Probable Cause?

If an officer does not have probable cause or a warrant, it might result in an illegal search and seizure or arrest. And if an officer conducted an unlawful search and found evidence, that evidence cannot be used against you. But if you are facing criminal charges and believe there was no probable cause, who will determine whether or not this is true?

Usually, judges review cases to determine the existence of probable cause. An officer might have based a search or arrest on probable cause, but if a judge finds that probable cause did not exist, they can overrule that determination.

As a defendant, you need to retain a skilled attorney who can help you challenge a finding of probable cause. If your attorney is able to help you prove that probable cause did not exist, your case might be dismissed.

Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

It is crucial to note that the standard of reasonable suspicion is different from that of probable cause. According to the Supreme Court of the United States of America, in determining whether an officer acted reasonably, a court should consider the specific reasonable conclusions the law enforcement officer is entitled to draw from the facts in light of their experience.

Reasonable suspicion can also allow an officer to perform a search and detain someone. In descending order of what gives a law enforcement officer the broadest authority to perform a search, courts have found the order to be;

  • A warrant
  • Probable cause
  • Reasonable suspicion

Contact a London Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges in London or anywhere in Kentucky, and the officers did not have probable cause to search you or arrest you, a London criminal defense attorney at Cessna & George Law Firm can help you.



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