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    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Probable Cause

    Probable cause is the standard used by police officers when deciding to arrest a person. Probable cause is defined as "A necessary element of a legitimate arrest or legal search and seizure; a reasonable ground to believe that someone is committing or has committed an offense". When determining if probable cause exists for an arrest, the courts use the "reasonable man" approach. Basically, would a man of reasonable caution, with the information available at the time, believe that a crime or offense was being or had been committed. Probable cause is unique in each instance. It's the known facts at the time, under the circumstances surrounding the offense.

    A hypothetical example: An officer is dispatched to a house regarding a burglary in progress. Upon arrival, he sees a broken window. A guy wearing a ski mask is climbing out of the window carrying a crow bar in one hand and a stereo in the other. The owner of the house is pointing at the guy saying "He's stealing my stereo". There's probably enough probable cause to arrest the guy. However, say the officer is dispatched to the burglary and is also told that a stereo had been stolen. While driving to the house, he sees a man walking down the street in close proximity to the house and carrying a stereo in his hands. Is there enough probable cause to make an arrest? Probably not. The officer would certainly be correct and within constitutional standards in detaining the individual for a reasonable time, while trying to gain more information, but probably would not have enough information to make an immediate arrest. However, probable cause can be developed. Does the man match the description of the perpetrator, can the owner identify the stereo the man is carrying, does he have cuts on his skin (climbing out of the window), does the pattern on the soles of his shoes match shoe prints at the scene, etc.

    Probable cause is a Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution issue: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures (an arrest is considered a "seizure"), 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".

    The Fourth Amendment is contained in the "Bill of Rights" which was ratified on December 15, 1791. Its an old but good standard. Our forefathers had their act together.

    BTW, My brother got the cartoon from a local newspaper. I presume the officer has probable cause...

    Things not to say to a police officer: "Aren't you the guy from the Village People"?

    Let's be careful out there.






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