Probable cause is a legal standard used by law enforcement officials to justify an arrest, a search, or the issuance of a warrant. It refers to the reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time, that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed, and that the person or property to be searched or seized is connected to that crime.
Where Does Probable Cause Come From?
Probable cause comes from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The text of the Fourth Amendment reads as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”U.S. Const., Amend. IV
In essence, the Fourth Amendment protects individuals from arbitrary intrusions by the government into their homes, persons, or property. It requires that warrants for searches and seizures be based on probable cause, supported by an oath or affirmation, and that the warrants be specific in describing the place to be searched and the items or persons to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that probable cause be present before a search or seizure can be conducted, and that warrants must be issued based on probable cause. The standard for probable cause is higher than mere suspicion but lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard used in criminal trials.
The Fourth Amendment has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in a variety of cases, and its protections have been extended to include not only physical searches and seizures but also electronic surveillance and other forms of government intrusion.
How is Probable Cause Determined?
Probable cause is determined by a reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances known to the law enforcement officer at the time, that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed, and that the person or property to be searched or seized is connected to that crime.
The determination of probable cause is based on the totality of the circumstances, which means that all relevant factors are considered, including the officer’s training and experience, the behavior of the person in question, the nature of the offense suspected, and any other available information.
For example, if an officer observes a person driving erratically and smells the odor of alcohol on the driver or the driver’s breath, and the person fails a field sobriety test, this may provide probable cause for the officer to arrest the person for driving under the influence. Similarly, if an officer receives a report of a burglary and sees a suspect carrying a bag of stolen goods, this may provide probable cause for the officer to arrest the suspect.
It is important to note that the determination of probable cause is a legal decision, and it is subject to review by a judge. If a judge determines that there was not sufficient probable cause for a search or seizure, any evidence obtained as a result may be suppressed or excluded from trial.
How the Probable Cause Standard Protects Individual Rights
The role of probable cause in protecting individual rights is significant. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that searches and seizures be reasonable and supported by probable cause. This requirement serves as a critical safeguard against arbitrary intrusions by the government into the lives, property, and privacy of individuals.
By requiring probable cause, the law helps to ensure that government searches and seizures are not conducted based on mere suspicion or hunches, but rather on specific and articulable facts that support a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
The requirement of probable cause also helps to prevent fishing expeditions and overbroad searches by limiting the scope of searches and seizures to specific places, things, or individuals. This requirement promotes the use of targeted investigations and helps to protect innocent individuals from unwarranted suspicion and harassment.
Moreover, the requirement of probable cause is a fundamental protection of individual privacy, which is recognized as a core value in democratic societies. It ensures that individuals have the right to be free from unreasonable and unjustified government intrusions into their lives, and it helps to prevent government abuse of power.
In short, the role of probable cause in protecting individual rights is to ensure that government searches and seizures are based on specific and articulable facts and are conducted only when there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed. This requirement promotes the rule of law, protects individual privacy, and helps to prevent government overreach.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Towson, MD
Our criminal defense law firm in Towson, MD has extensive experience in challenging probable cause with regard to arrests, searches, and seizures. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation with an award-winning criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Maryland.