It is one of America’s major protections. In no state of the union can the police place anyone under arrest without at least a semblance of probable cause. To establish it, they must have more than a simple hunch that someone has committed an illegal act. Beyond suspicious circumstances, they need some sort of concrete verification to which they can point.
Establishing Probable Cause
When the police pull you over on the road, detain you in the local mall or knock on your door in the middle of the night, you may have reason to fear for your future. That is when some questions may cross your mind. Does law enforcement have the right to do this? Can they search my car, enter my home or take me into custody without probable cause? What if I try to resist arrest?
Although members of law enforcement may sincerely believe that the circumstances of the situation warrant taking you into custody, their opinion alone will never be enough. They will have to convince a judge, and in order to do that, they will need to back up their claim with verifiable information.
What Sort of Criminal Data Will Do?
To qualify as a basis for probable cause, the facts must be not only reasonable but also easily articulated. They must necessarily lead any thoughtful and intelligent person to conclude that the individual or entity in question has engaged in behavior that is either criminal in nature or sufficiently egregious to justify a civil lawsuit.
Probable Cause and Criminal Law
In criminal law, probable cause stands as the all-important standard for allowing the police to conduct a legal search or deprive someone of his liberty. It also serves as backup for a defendant’s subsequent prosecution. However, any criminal defense attorney will tell you that the existence of probable cause at the time of someone’s arrest will never stand as proof of actual wrongdoing. In some cases, despite its existence, the suspect is later proved innocent. This is why it’s important to call an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Probable Cause and Civil Law
In contrast to its role in criminal law, probable cause in a civil case attempts to show only that valid grounds exist for taking the current legal action. These grounds must, however, be persuasive. A plaintiff who brings a personal injury lawsuit without sufficient and compelling reason for doing so is likely to have his case thrown out of court. Such a plaintiff also leaves himself open to charges of malicious prosecution should the original defendant choose to retaliate in this way.
Probable Cause and Traffic Stops
In most cases, Nevada law enforcement officials cannot stop a vehicle simply on suspicion that its driver is driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) (Chapter 484C). Unless the stop occurs at one of the state’s legal sobriety checkpoints, the police must have probable cause for pulling you over. Drivers who speed, drift, stop abruptly, swerve erratically, have a broken taillight or commit a traffic violation are setting themselves up for a traffic stop. Only after the police have detained you for any of these reasons can they subsequently search your car, subject you to a sobriety test and potentially arrest you with probable cause for illegal possession or driving under the influence.
Probable Cause in Search and Seizure Cases
Except in cases of dire emergency, law enforcement cannot search for evidence on private property without a warrant to do so. The officer who hopes to obtain such a warrant will need to present the judge with demonstrable proof of criminal activity having occurred at that location. Suspicion alone will never be enough.
Exceptions to the Need for Probable Cause
There are some cases in which the probable cause requirement does not apply. In addition to circumstances concerning emergency situations and Nevada’s legal sobriety checkpoints, a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity will give law enforcement the right to detain and search anyone they choose in a public location. This policy of stop, question and frisk allows police to do that with a lesser level of knowledge than they would subsequently need to take the same suspect into custody.
Probable cause and its many permutations often constitute a gray area. If you have been arrested, charged with a crime, or have any questions concerning this sometimes-elusive concept and how it may apply to your own situation, call the criminal defense attorneys at Weiner Law Group at 702-202-0500 today!