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Probable Cause and Police Searches

Posted on in Criminal Law

Illinois probable cause, Crystal Lake Criminal Defense AttorneysThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees protection from unreasonable searches and seizures by police officers. Generally speaking, in order to conduct a search of a person, his or her car, or his or her residence, the police must either have a warrant authorizing the search, or have probable cause to conduct the search. In fact, warrants should not be granted permitting a search if there is no probable cause. Yet what exactly is probable cause?

Probable cause for an arrest is found when the police have a reasonable basis to believe that a person has committed a crime. In a search, the police have to have a reasonable basis to believe that they will find evidence of a crime from the person or place to be searched.

What constitutes the reasonable basis is often settled by a judge during a preliminary hearing after the search or arrest has already taken place. If a judge decides that there was no reasonable basis for the search, any evidence of a crime that was found during the search cannot be used against the defendant in a criminal prosecution against them. If the police can find independent evidence of the defendant's wrongdoing through other avenues however, the defendant can be prosecuted for the crime.

There is no set formula for determining whether probable cause exists at the time a search is conducted. The courts look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the search. Probable cause does not have to meet the more stringent standard required at trial. That is, the prosecution does not have to show that the probable cause to conduct a search was beyond reasonable doubt; all that is required is a showing of a reasonable probability. However, more is required for probable cause than is required for a temporary stop by police officers.

The police do not necessarily require probable cause to search a person without a warrant if the person consents to the search. For example, the police stop a driver for an illegal turn, and during that stop the officer asks the driver if he or she would consent to a search of his or her car because the officer suspects the driver to be under the influence of marijuana. If the driver willingly agrees to the search, the police officer can conduct it without a warrant, and without necessarily having to show that there was probable cause for the search.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

If you have been arrested and charged with a criminal offense following a search by the police, with or without a warrant, you may be able to challenge your arrest based on the lack of probable cause. Contact our experienced Crystal Lake criminal defense attorneys at our firm for a free consultation.




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