Probable Cause

Probable Cause





Probablecause refers to the condition that is required by law for lawenforcement officers to take a legal action against an individual. Itrefers to the reasonable belief that must exist to make an arrest,conduct a search or prosecute an individual in the law court. Inother words, probable cause is a basic legal principle which requiresthat before law enforcement officers can take an action against asuspected criminal there should be sensible reasons to believe thatan action that is against the law has taken place (Bevans, 2015).This means that police should not arrest individuals based onsuspicion of crime, but rather reasonable ground. Probable cause ismore applicable in the criminal law that in civil law. This isbecause enforcement of criminal law involves arrests or search, whichresults into depriving of some of the individual rights andliberties. On the other hand, civil cases can only deprive anindividual of property and not liberty. However, even in civil law,in a court proceeding, the plaintiff should have probable cause inorder to be allowed to levy a case against he defendant. Lack ofprobable cause in civil case considered malicious, which may attractlaw suit against the plaintiff by the defendant. Additionally, caseswhich do not have probable cause are more likely to be dismissed bythe court (Bevans, 2015).

Incriminal law, probable cause is applicable in all aspects of lawenforcement. It is very essential in two aspect of policing and lawenforcement. First, in order for law enforcement officers to arrestor conduct a search on an individual and their properties, there mustbe a probable cause. Secondly, before a suspect can be prosecuted ina law court, the court officers, mainly the prosecutors mustestablish that there a probable cause exists. In both cases, theremust be sufficient reason to believe that the individual hascommitted a crime. However, there are some exceptions in which lawenforcement officers can act without probable cause. For example, anindividual can be detained briefly and some degree of search beallowed if there is suspicion that he or she has committed a crime.This is despite the fact that probable cause principle aims ateliminating the action of law enforcement officers acting onsuspicion. However, the suspicion must be reasonable, although thelevel of believe is relatively low. A law enforcement officer can actbased on this exception to probable cause if there is a knowledge ofan individual who need to be treated with caution and there isinformation that he or she may have been involved in a criminalactivity. The limited search or detention allowed by this exceptiongives the law enforcement officers opportunity to establish whetherthere is a probable cause to take further action (Bevans, 2015).

Inthe united state, the probable cause principle is based in the fourthamendment of the United States constitution. According to the fourthamendment, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons,houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches andseizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, butupon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, andparticularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons orthings to be searched” (Bevans, 2015). There are also state lawsthat prohibit unreasonable search and seizures. The requirement for areasonable search and seizure works in cycle with the requirementsfor arrest or search warrant. A warrant is should be issues by acourt of law before a law enforcement officer can act on it. However,a warrant is not a requirement for probable cause, and thus majorityof search and seizure are implemented without a warrant. The amountof evidence that is required for probable cause depends on individualcases (Bevans, 2015).

Probablecause can be better understood using examples. Imagine a lawenforcement officer arriving at John’s jewelry shop, moments aftera robbery. There is evidence of robbery in the shop. A man claimingto be John the owner of the shop gives a physical description of thethief to the officer as well as the thing he had stolen. Momentslater, the same officer stops a car on the highway, a few miles fromthe scene of robbery for speeding. The driver matches the descriptionof the robber and there are a couple of jewelries in a paper bag inthe car, with price tags attached. In this case, the officer has aprobable cause to arrest and detain the suspected robber. In anexample, imagine an officer stops a car for speeding and finds a bagof cocaine under the armrest. The occupants of the car claim thatthey are unaware of the presence of drugs in the car. Although theoccupants deny ownership of the drugs, there is a probable cause toarrest the occupants. In another example, presence of unexplainedblood strains on the clothes or dents on the car may be reasonable todetain and further investigate the individual. There are severalexamples of law cases that involve probable cause. One example is theIllinois v. Gates case in which the probable cause of achieved byestablishing there were reasons to believe that the suspect wasinvolved in drugs due to his actions. Others include Terry v. Ohio,New Jersey v. TLO and United States v. Matlock, among others.


Bevans,N. (2015). Criminal law and procedure for the paralegal,Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.