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What is probable cause?

| Mar 27, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects us from unlawful searches and seizures by the government and requires that police officers have probable cause to make an arrest.

Probable cause requires that an officer look at the totality of the circumstances and after considering all relevant information, determine how likely it is that a crime has been committed. If the officer has a reasonable belief that a crime was committed, then and only then, will they be legally permitted to make an arrest. Probable cause is required for warrantless arrests, but is also required for arrests stemming from an arrest warrant.

While reasonable suspicion is all an officer needs to stop someone initially, it is not enough to make an arrest. Probable cause requires additional evidence, but generally less evidence than is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it is important to note that the probable cause standard is not clearly defined and will depend on the circumstances surrounding the arrest. The accused person’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant when determining probable cause.

In many cases, a judge will determine evaluate probable cause during the defendant’s first court appearance post-arrest. If a judge determines that there was no probable cause for the arrest, the charges will likely be dismissed.

Police officers are not legally allowed to arrest someone based on a hunch or a feeling. They must have real reason to believe a crime was committed, or the arrest will be considered illegal. If you believe you were unlawfully arrested, a New Jersey attorney specializing in criminal defense can review your claim and determine whether you have a legitimate claim.