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The central role played by probable cause in criminal law

It’s more than a hunch, but doesn’t have to be an absolute certainty.

Somewhere within the boundaries of those extremes resides so-called “probable cause,” which is a key legal concept. In fact, one in-depth article overview of probable cause stresses that it “is perhaps one of the most important concepts when it comes to criminal law.”

OK, so it commands a punch. But what exactly is probable cause?

Probable cause: a vital constitutional protection

The importance of probable cause in criminal law cases is flatly proved by its prominent and centuries-old mention in the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of that document underscores individuals’ right to be safe from unreasonable searches and seizure “in their persons, houses, papers and effects.”

The Constitution addresses probable cause in terms of its requirement as a prerequisite for criminal officials to get a warrant. The requirement also closely applies to warrantless arrests, searches and seizures as well, though.

Which indeed makes it incredibly important today, given close police-citizen interactions that result in allegations of crime.

In what type of situations does probable cause apply?

Probable cause plays out in legions of cases every day. A cop searching and arresting a person for drug possession, for example, must have reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime was committed or was about to be committed. Probable cause also factors into DUI stops, home searches, cases of alleged traffic violations and many other situations.

That transcends mere suspicion. And it must be in response to facts and circumstances that are apparent prior to any search or detention.

Obviously, interpretations presented to a court can differ, with legions of cases across the country underscoring that law enforcers sometimes seek to manipulate probable cause in a pretextual way.

A proven legal defense team will routinely zero in on probable cause where it is relevant in a client’s case, closely probing the statements, conduct and evidence surrounding police behavior.

The outcome of a criminal law case often depends on that close scrutiny.

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