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Probable Cause Generally

If you have ever watched movies or television, you have probably heard the phrase "probable cause." Probable cause plays a crucial role in our criminal justice system and, if it not meticulously documented by law enforcement, their arrest of a citizen could be invalidated.

Probable Cause & Arrests

Here is the general scenario how police officers make arrests. A crime has been committed. A police officer plans to make an arrest based on an investigation. The Constitution requires the officer to present a sworn statement before a detached magistrate in order to determine probable cause. This is what that means: a magistrate, without any bias or attachment to the parties. Magistrates are often judges in our court system, as well, and their approval of these probable cause determinations can happen in a variety of different ways.

Probable Cause & Warrants

In many cases, probable cause results in a warrant for arrest. This is common in incidents that result in a police investigation: detectives will gather testimony and evidence and present their findings to a judge. Detectives are demonstrating to the magistrate that their findings call for an arrest of an individual. They will then likely have to re-present this evidence in court, but approval for an arrest from a magistrate is needed before formally charging a suspect.

Probable Cause without a Warrant

Probable cause that is acted on without the approval of a magistrate can be much trickier to determine and complex to assess after-the-fact. When police officers come across urgent and potentially dangerous situations, they may act on the belief that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed. This belief, however, must be validated by evidence the officers can detect—which will serve as their probable cause. To illustrate that, let's look at an example: after responding to a neighbor's call of a possible domestic disturbance, officers knock on a door to check on a residence. They can hear yelling from within, banging, and screams of distress.

Clearly, presenting this evidence (the noises) to a magistrate would take too long-- someone inside clearly needs help immediately. In this circumstance, the officers can act on probable cause by forcibly entering the home and making an arrest. The officers' account of the incident will later be assessed by detectives, a judge, and legal counsel. If it does not demonstrate legitimate probable cause, the charges may be dismissed. If the probable cause is legitimate (and the officers acted appropriately) the charges against the accused will stand.

This is just a simple example with very black and white circumstances. In reality, determining probable cause can be much more nuanced and officers do not always act within the correct boundaries. In these cases, vigilant defense counsel can identify these probable cause violations and ensure that their client's constitutional rights were not violated.

If you have been arrested and believe that your case has probable cause issues, call the Law Offices of Randall J. Craig today. Attorney Craig is an award-winning Scottsdale criminal defense attorney who has time and time again protected the rights of his clients and ensured that they received every consideration they deserved before our court system.

Don't wait to start learning about your legal options. Call the firm today to request an initial case evaluation today.