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2 examples of probable cause in criminal law

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Criminal Defense

While police officers have a host of powers at their disposal, they can only act within the confines of the law. A police officer cannot detain, arrest and charge anyone for no reason.

To initiate an investigation or traffic stop, officers typically require reasonable suspicion. To conduct searches and seizures and make arrests, officers need probable cause. What does probable cause look like in criminal law?

Probable cause during traffic stops

If a driver is speeding or driving erratically, this gives police officers the reasonable suspicion required to conduct a traffic stop. What the officers see after initiating the stop determines whether or not a driver is arrested. For example, if there is no further evidence of drunk driving, then the driver shouldn’t be arrested for driving under the influence.

On the other hand, if the driver smells like alcohol, slurs their words, falls over, becomes abusive or fails a breathalyzer test, this evidence likely amounts to probable cause. The driver could be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

Probable cause in a residence

Law enforcement may visit a residence as part of an investigation. The owner of that residence may opt to let officers in to ask questions. However, they’re not typically obligated to do so if officers do not have a warrant based on probable cause.

Officers can only force their way into the premises if there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed – for example, if they heard a gunshot from inside the residence upon arrival.

If you are facing charges and believe proper procedures were not followed, this can form part of your defense strategy. Having legal guidance on your side will help to strengthen your case.