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Probable cause may be determined in different ways

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from the threat of authorities performing illegal search and seizures. In order to perform a search and seizure without a warrant, police must have what is known as probable cause.

In a post that appeared previously on this blog, we recounted a news story about a defendant who was facing drug charges. A judge dismissed the case owing to his belief that the arrest lacked probable cause. It is extremely important to consider probable cause, because it is what an arrest is based on.

The basis of probable cause is not merely suspicion, but rather factual evidence. What follows is a list of conditions that may meet the standards for probable cause:

  • Observational information can form the foundation of probable cause. This information can be gleaned from things an officer sees, smells or hears.
  • Suspicious behavior that indicates unlawful activity as witnessed by an officer, such as a car repeatedly cruising through an area, can serve as probable cause.
  • An informant, victim or witness can give information that provides a basis for probable cause.
  • An officer’s policing knowledge can be used as a basis of probable cause. Experience may inform an officer when a suspect has engaged in, or has intention to engage in, unlawful behavior.
  • Circumstantial evidence, which gives indication of unlawful activity, can form the basis for probable cause. This evidence may be indirectly indicative of a crime. A broken window may be such an indicator.

The standards for determining probable cause are not absolute, but have rather been intentionally left vague. So it is possible police officers may believe they have probable cause when they make an arrest, when they do not. This means that ultimately a judge may be left to decide if probable cause existed when an arrest was made.

If you are facing charges related to drug crimes, a Louisiana criminal defense attorney could look through the reports on your arrest to determine if probable cause existed. In addition, the attorney could go point for point over the reports to ensure your constitutional rights were not violated. The attorney could then advise you on what may be your best legal options.

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