Probable Cause and Why It Matters
Posted on Feb 12, 2014 4:20pm UTC
Probable cause – that elusive term that many, if not all, criminal cases hinge on. Criminal charges begin with an arrest, and a lawful arrest cannot take place unless there was probable cause to do so. Probable cause is also an essential component to criminal searches and seizures. Probable cause matters and is part of every individual’s constitutional rights. Specifically, probable cause originates from the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that every citizen has the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of their property, person and effects. There are some circumstances in which a search without a warrant is lawful, but only in “extraordinary circumstances which place the general public in danger.”
If you were:
- Arrested without probable cause or
- Were charged based on evidence obtained in an unlawful search
then your defense attorney may be able to file a pre-trial motion to get your charges dismissed on these grounds. Your criminal case may even be dismissed before this if the judge agrees that there was no probable cause and therefore no grounds for criminal charges.
Simply put, probable cause must exist in order to:
- Obtain a search warrant
- Arrest someone
- Charge someone with a crime
- Convict an individual for a crime
Probable cause is needed not only to pursue criminal charges, but to carry out criminal convictions. It is an essential component of the U.S. criminal justice system.
The Exclusionary Rule
Most criminal cases ride on more than one piece of evidence, which means that an unlawful search and seizure could be enough to get some evidence dismissed from a criminal case, but not all. This means that even if your defense attorney can prove that there was not probable cause for a particular search and seizure, your criminal case could continue on the basis of different evidence.
Take this DWI case, for example. A man is facing a DWI after he was pulled over at a traffic stop for speeding. During the stop, the officer noticed that the defendant’s eyes were bloodshot so he decided to conduct a series of field sobriety tests, made a DWI arrest, and the defendant was ultimately charged with DWI after blowing a .09 BAC (over the legal limit).
A defense attorney may be able to prove that there was not probable cause to detain the defendant, but this has nothing to do with the speed violation. The DWI charge could potentially be dismissed, but the speeding violation likely would still stand.
If you were arrested for any type of criminal offense, DWI, a drug offense, assault or another, then probable cause matters in your case. Contact a Houston criminal defense attorney at Billy Skinner & Associates today for legal representation you can count on.