Probable cause is a legal term you might have heard in television legal dramas, crime documentaries, and law enforcement dramatizations. But do you know what it means or how it could affect your interactions with the police? Here’s what you should know about probable cause in Texas.
Types of Probable Cause
Probable cause is a legal concept established by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It outlines when and how government agents can make an arrest, obtain a warrant, or conduct a search or seizure. Probable cause is part of a person’s right to due process. Officers cannot break into your home, arrest you, and take your possessions. They need a valid reason to search you or your home. Probable cause protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.
There are distinct types of probable cause, including:
- Probable Cause for Warrants – Legally searching a person’s home or property generally requires a warrant. A search warrant is a legal document issued by a magistrate allowing police officers to search a specific place for evidence of a crime. A search warrant should only be issued when law enforcement can demonstrate probable cause. Officers must tell the issuing judge why they believe a specific crime is occurring and the particular items they hope to find on the property connected to that crime. They must present this information in a sworn affidavit to the magistrate that sets out substantial facts that establish probable cause.
- Probable Cause for Search and Seizure – There are some situations where an officer of the law can search without a court-issued warrant. Probable cause in cases of warrantless search and seizure typically means an affirmative answer to the question, “Would a reasonable person believe a crime was committed or is in the process of being committed given the immediate circumstances?”
- Probable Cause for Arrest – Legally, a police officer cannot arrest someone unless they have probable cause to believe that person committed a crime or may be about to commit a crime. Probable cause for an arrest may exist when the circumstances of a situation or the evidence in a case point to a specific individual being responsible for a criminal act. Probable cause cannot rest on mere suspicion. Objective facts must implicate the individual.
What Is the Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?
Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are terms often used interchangeably. However, these are two very distinct concepts. Both phrases describe a law enforcement officer’s overall impression of a situation. However, reasonable suspicion is the step that comes just before probable cause.
Reasonable suspicion is more of a common-sense indication that wrongdoing is occurring or is about to happen. A driver swerving in and out of traffic may raise the suspicion something is wrong. Driving erratically is an articulable fact an officer can point to justify stopping a motorist.
Yet, before an officer can arrest someone, they need probable cause. Law enforcement needs supporting evidence and a reasonable justification to make an arrest. Again, erratic driving may give an officer reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. However, the empty beer bottles in the passenger seat the officer saw would be probable cause to arrest someone for a crime.
How a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Dallas Can Help You
Have you been arrested or accused of committing a crime? Then, you need immediate legal representation from a criminal defense lawyer in Dallas. You need Broden & Mickelsen, LLP. We are board-certified specialists in criminal law and criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We have an in-depth understanding of these complex legal standards and can use our knowledge to protect your rights.
Contact our office immediately and set up a free legal consultation with a Dallas criminal attorney and outline your legal options.