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What is Probable Cause?

A lot of people do not know much about the law and more specifically what constitutes probable cause. In the United States court system, probable cause is facts or evidence that would make a reasonable person believe that a crime or wrongdoing has been, is being, or will be committed.

In order for a lawful search and seizure to occur, a judge requires a law official to produce probable cause. If the judge sees the evidence as probable cause then he or she will issue a search warrant or a warrant of arrest. The constitution does not define what is probable cause. The judge has final say on what constitutes probable cause and what does not.

The constitution states that probable cause is based on oath and affirmation. Before a judge issues a warrant, probable cause must prove that a crime most likely happened at a certain place and at a certain time. Usually an affidavit (which is a written statement provided by police or a private citizen) satisfies these requirements. Police officers and private citizens write affidavits under oath so that there is a sense of security that what is being said is true.

All of the facts do not need to be known to establish probable cause in order to obtain a search or arrest warrant. There are some situations that a law official can search a person’s property without getting a search warrant first. There are a few situations where a search warrant is not needed before searching someone’s personal property and they are…a) when a person agrees to the search, b) if the search is necessary to the safety of the public, to prevent evidence from being destroyed, or c) a “hot pursuit.” Even though a search warrant is not needed in these types of situations, probable cause must be a reason why these situations would happen in the first place and it must be shown before or after they take place.

Probable cause is considered the good faith measure of catching criminals. For a police officer to act in good faith, he or she must have probably cause to search a person’s private property or make an arrest.

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