What is probable cause?
Ask any Arizona parent if they can tell when their child is up to no good and they will probably say “yes”. Parents tend to have a sixth sense when it comes to their children’s behavior and for the most part the hunches and suspicions they harbor are generally spot-on. A parent can base punishments and consequences on the bad actions they find out their kids have committed when the parents act on their hunches.
However, law enforcement officials throughout the state cannot use this same manner of suspicion to arrest individuals that they believe are up to no good. A police officer who arrests a person based on a hunch may violate that individual’s Fourth Amendment rights and as such law enforcement officials are held to a higher standard when they choose to act on alleged criminal conduct. In order for a law enforcement official to make a legal arrest, legally seize property or legally execute a search they must have probable cause.
Probable cause means that there is a basis for the actions law enforcement officials take against individuals who are believed to be involved in criminal activity. It requires evidence and facts to show that a law enforcement official’s desired action – to arrest, search or seize – has grounds in reality and not simply in their suspicions. Probable cause is meant to protect the rights of individuals from illegal police actions.
Because probable cause is based on facts and evidence it is a somewhat subjective standard. As such, a person facing criminal charges may be able to show that a law enforcement official lacked probable cause to take action against them and therefore defend themselves against the charges they face. As all criminal legal matters are different, readers are reminded that this post does not provide advice and that consultation with criminal defense attorneys is an important step in formulating a solid plan of defense.