Lack of Probable Cause A Vital Criminal Defense

Lack of Probable Cause: A Vital Criminal Defense

In criminal law, probable cause stands as a crucial threshold for law enforcement officers. It is the legal basis for police officers to initiate searches, seizures, and arrests.

However, what happens when this foundational element is lacking? Let’s discover how the concept of lack of probable cause can become a powerful defense strategy in the hands of a skilled criminal defense attorney.

Understanding Probable Cause

Before delving into the defense strategy, it’s essential to grasp the concept of probable cause. Probable cause is the reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime based on facts or evidence. It is not mere suspicion but requires a level of certainty that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has occurred or is about to occur. In other words, it means a police officer has a good reason to suspect that:

  • Someone committed a crime.
  • Someone is committing a crime.
  • Someone is about to commit a crime.

Probable cause comes from specific facts that make the officer think the person is guilty or is breaking the law. If the facts are too general, the court might say there’s no probable cause. If a case lacks probable cause, the court might reject the evidence or drop the charges.

Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion means the officer can make logical guesses based on what they see and know. For example, if an officer sees someone acting strangely, they might have reasonable suspicion. This allows the officer to stop, search, or hold the person briefly. This is referred to as a Terry stop, a term derived from a Supreme Court ruling.

But to arrest someone or search their property, the officer needs probable cause. This is a higher standard. The officer must show enough evidence to a judge to prove there’s a good reason for the arrest or search. The judge then decides if there’s enough evidence for probable cause, not the officer.

The Fourth Amendment and Probable Cause

The concept of probable cause in the United States, as part of the Fourth Amendment, has origins in English common law and the idea that “a man’s home is his castle.” This means that people have the right to protect their homes from unwanted searches or intrusions. In the 1600s, this idea began to legally protect landowners from random searches by government officials.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. It states that:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

This means that law enforcement officers must have probable cause to obtain a search warrant or an arrest warrant. Without probable cause, any evidence obtained as a result of a search or arrest may be deemed inadmissible in court.

When Can Police Search Without a Warrant?

When police have good reasons to believe a crime happened or there’s evidence at a location, they can usually search for it. At times, they first obtain a search warrant. Other times, they search first and get a warrant later. Police can also search without a warrant if:

  1. The person in question agrees.
  2. They’re doing a search connected to an arrest.
  3. There’s a threat to public safety or evidence is at risk.

In addition, police don’t need a warrant to search for stolen items, drugs, or weapons in plain sight. Searching without a warrant based on probable cause is often illegal and violates the suspect’s rights.

Lack of Probable Cause as a Defense

When a person is arrested or subjected to a search without probable cause, it constitutes a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. In such cases, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can argue that any evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful search or arrest should be suppressed or excluded from trial.

Examples of a Lack of Probable Cause

  1. Unreasonable Searches and Seizures: If a police officer searches without a warrant or probable cause, any evidence found during that search may be suppressed.
  2. Traffic Stops: During a traffic stop, if an officer lacks probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, any evidence obtained during the stop may be deemed inadmissible.
  3. Arrests Without Probable Cause: If a person is arrested without probable cause, any statements made or evidence obtained as a result of that arrest may be suppressed.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

In Texas, a lack of probable cause can be a potent defense strategy in criminal cases. By challenging the legality of searches, seizures, and arrests, a skilled criminal defense attorney can protect the rights of the accused and potentially secure a favorable outcome. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, it’s essential to seek the guidance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected.