What does probable cause mean?

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

The way police conduct an investigation is crucial to whether the right person faces charges and punishment. A cornerstone of police procedure is establishing probable cause.

This investigative and legal standard may be confusing without much experience with the law. Discover what it takes for police to have probable cause and the outcomes it may lead to.

What does probable cause mean?

When the police suspect someone has broken the law, they must establish specific standards before an arrest. Probable cause is one prong of the legal procedure police use to further a criminal investigation. It is a standard that police use to arrest someone. It is also what the police present to a judge to receive legal permission to search a person or a place. Probable cause means that an officer has sufficient knowledge or belief to suspect someone has committed a crime.

Why is probable cause important?

If the police do not have probable cause, a criminal investigation stops. Since the threshold for establishing probable cause is fairly low, not having it means the police have zero evidence to back up their assertion that a suspect committed a crime. If the court does not find the police had sufficient probable cause after an arrest, it may void the charges and the arrest, allowing someone to go free. The same holds for a search warrant. Should the court later determine the foundation for the probable cause cited in obtaining the warrant faulty, the police may no longer use any evidence obtained during the search.

The Constitution allows citizens certain rights when it comes to legal procedures. Should the police not have the basis for probable cause, a case may not proceed, or the court may throw it out.