Defining probable cause in criminal cases

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

There are different burdens of proof in criminal cases. One of the lesser standards of proof is reasonable suspicion. Essentially, this means that officers suspect criminal activity. This in itself is typically not enough to carry out searches, detain suspects or charge them. A higher burden of proof of probable cause is required to do these things.

Probable cause can be a tricky term to define. Looking at practical examples can help to pinpoint the definition. Outlined below are some of the more common examples of probable cause.

Further evidence after a traffic stop

Law enforcement is permitted to stop you based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. However, to conduct searches and carry out an arrest, they need probable cause. Generally, this is further evidence that presents itself after the initial stop. For example, if your pupils were dilated and you were slurring your words during the traffic stop.

Another example of probable cause would be if the officer spotted illegal materials through the window of the vehicle. For instance, if they spotted multiple bags containing a white power substance. Or, if they noticed a cache of weapons on the back seat of the vehicle. This would almost certainly be enough to give law enforcement the probable cause required to carry out further investigations and an arrest.

Testimony from reliable witnesses

In many cases, witnesses will come forward to give their accounts of suspected criminal activity. For instance, if a roommate has come forward with concerns that the person they are sharing a home with is using the property to conduct unlawful activity, this could amount to probable cause, which could give officers a legitimate reason to search the property and carry out arrests.

You should not be arrested or charged with a crime until probable cause has been established. Even if you are facing accusations, this doesn’t mean you are guilty. Having legal guidance behind you will help you to assert your rights during a criminal case.