What Is “Probable Cause”?

You cannot be arrested for a crime in Collin County unless police and prosecutors have probable cause to charge you. But what exactly does “probable cause” mean? You have probably heard that phrase many times before without understanding its origin or importance.

Every American’s Constitutional Right

In American law, probable cause is a legal standard specified in the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment, which protects all citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In order to justify a search or arrest warrant, police must have “probable cause” to believe that a crime has been committed. Even where the police may conduct a search or arrest without a warrant, they must still have probable cause.

Probable cause essentially means it is “more probable than not” there has been a crime. In this sense, probable cause is more than a mere suspicion or a hunch. But it is less than the standard needed to actually convict someone of a crime at trial, which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Probable Cause and DWI

Probable cause only applies to search and arrest situations. The police may question or briefly detain someone even without probable cause. In cases of detention, police must still have a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. This is a lower standard than probable cause, which requires some factual basis but not necessarily hard evidence.

A common scenario that illustrates the difference between “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” is a traffic stop. If a Collin County police officer observes you driving erratically on the highway, he may pull you over on reasonable suspicion of a DWI. At this point the officer does not have probable cause to arrest you or search your vehicle. If the officer subsequently gathers additional evidence–your breath smells of alcohol, you are unable to walk without stumbling, there is an open beer bottle on the front seat of your car, etc.–then there is a probable cause to justify a search (such as a Breathalyzer test) arrest.

A Sex Crimes Lawyer in Collin County Can Help

There are plenty of situations where police jump the gun, figuratively speaking, and conduct a search or arrest without probable cause. If Collin County police violate your constitutional rights it is important to stand up for yourself in court. The Collin County criminal defense lawyers at Rosenthal & Wadas know how to deal with issues related to probable cause and police conduct. Contact us today at 972-369-0577 to schedule a free consultation.

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