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What does probable cause mean?

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The police may stop someone on the street or pull a vehicle over and perform a search. Although an arrest may follow, the charges could end up dismissed if the police didn’t have probable cause to perform the search. When law enforcement officials lack or outright disregard probable cause, a Georgia court may find that the police violated the defendant’s rights.

Probable cause, arrests and the suspect’s rights

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides the basis for probable cause, which keeps the government from engaging in unreasonable intrusions. Probable cause derives from this right, which means the police require compelling reasons beyond mere suspicion to conduct a search, procure a warrant or make an arrest.

Now, the police do not need absolute proof to take action. For example, the police may hear screams inside someone’s house and break the door down. If it turns out the noise came from a television, then no arrest should occur, but the police could make a case that they had probable cause to assume an assault was taking place.

The police could not break a door down and look for evidence of a crime simply because a home fell into neglect or looked suspicious. Assuming that the house is a front for drugs based on a lack of repairs doubtfully provides probable cause.

Lack of probable cause and suppression of evidence

If the police lack probable cause and perform a search and subsequent arrest, any evidence procured might not be valid in a courtroom. Pulling a vehicle over for no reason, searching the trunk without any signs of criminal activity and finding drugs does not necessarily reflect an easy conviction. The defendant’s criminal defense strategy may involve claiming that a lack of probable cause for the search made it illegal, making the evidence inadmissible.

An attorney may examine the factors that led to someone’s arrest. If it appears that police violated the client’s rights, the attorney might make such facts the centerpiece of the defense.

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