A police officer may arrest a person with probable cause or a warrant to do so. Arrest means the officer can detain the individual by placing them in handcuffs, transporting them to the police station for booking, and placing them in a jail cell. After or during an arrest, there may be additional ways for an officer to conduct a search related to the arrest.

What Is Probable Cause?

Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief that an individual will perpetrate a crime or other violation. Without first confirming probable cause, any criminal search of the individual’s body, belongings, or property will be unreasonable. This means that anything that the search indicates will most likely be useless when convicting the defendant. There must be factual evidence to support the suspicion for a reasonable belief to exist.

Generally speaking, a probable cause needs more than a mere suspicion that a suspect committed a crime, but not enough info to establish that the individual is guilty of a crime (beyond a reasonable doubt). The thought must be based on factual proof, not superficial suspicion.

A typical example of this would be when a police officer chooses to pull someone over on the highway. Suppose the driver is weaving, speeding, braking suddenly, or driving erratically. It could be sufficient evidence to cause the police officer to have probable cause that the person is driving while under the influence. The police can then pull over the suspect based on their swerving, which delivers probable cause for the stop.

Nevertheless, if the driver is driving normally and following all traffic rules, the police might not be able to pull the individual over for drunk driving. This is because they have no probable cause to think that the individual is driving while drunk.

The court issuing the warrant uses a test developed to resolve whether probable cause exists. This test is founded on whether an objective individual of reasonable intelligence would think that the circumstances indicate that the individual arrested or detained has committed or is committing a crime. And, in cases in which police officers are authorized to make a warrantless arrest or conduct a warrantless search or seizure, probable cause is still required.

What Are the Sources of Probable Cause?

For an arrest, search, or seizure of property to be lawful, an officer must establish probable cause to a judge or magistrate. An officer may rely on four general categories of evidence when establishing probable cause.

Proof from any of these four classifications would most likely authorize an officer to perform a lawful arrest or perform a search:

  • Observation: Any knowledge that an officer gets through observation may be used to show probable cause. Common instances of probable cause based on observation could include anything within the “plain view” or “plain smell” of an officer or anything else based on what an officer sees, hears, smells, or feels. Further, police dogs may also conduct searches wherein the evidence found is admissible;
  • Circumstantial Evidence: Further, an officer may depend on indirect evidence that suggests something has happened but does not instantly demonstrate it. An instance of this would be how an officer responding to a robbery may have probable cause for arresting or searching a person found hiding in an alleyway or sprinting away from the scene with bags in hand. Although the evidence of the individual fleeing might not instantly demonstrate that they committed the robbery, the circumstantial evidence provides probable cause for an officer to search;
  • Expertise: An officer may use their expertise and training to identify specific movements, gestures, preparations, or tools to indicate criminal activity. An instance of this would be how an officer may use their expertise on drug paraphernalia to demonstrate probable cause that the items may have been used with drug crimes. Nevertheless, knowledge and training could be deemed relative and should be used in concurrence with other categories of evidence; and
  • Information: An officer may use info acquired from trustworthy sources to show probable cause. Such information could include:
    • Reports by witnesses or victims.
    • Obtaining details from an informant.
    • Responding to a call made on a police scanner/radio.
    • Recently, the courts scrutinized information obtained from an informant, primarily when the information was received through an anonymous tip.

What Is a “Search Incident to Arrest”?

A search incident to arrest can happen during the arrest or shortly after that. Once an officer has chosen to make a legal arrest, they can search the arrested individual for weapons and anything that may hurt the officer or the arrested individual during transport.

The officer may also search the direct surroundings of the arrested individual. In searching, the officer may recover weapons and any other evidence related to the crime the officer has probable cause, or the arrested individual has committed a warrant to believe.

An inventory search can happen when the arrested individual arrives at the police station. The officer may search the detained individual more comprehensively for all items on their person before placing them in a holding cell. Items recovered at the station can include hidden objects, paper, or illicit substances.

What Is an Arrest Records Search?

Anyone, including private citizens, can search another individual’s criminal record. These records may be public online for free in many states by searching for a person by name. These records can include the following information:

  • Date and location of arrest;
  • The city or county where the alleged offense took place;
  • The nature of the crime includes domestic violence, property crime, and whether the offense is a felony;
  • Whether the case is still pending, including hearing or trial dates;
  • Whether the arrested individual was convicted of the crime; or
  • Sentencing information, including whether the arrested individual was jailed or is presently on probation.

Is It Possible to Have a Criminal Record Cleared?

Sealing or clearing a criminal record can occasionally be an option for some individuals. This makes it as though the criminal charges never occurred, and the public usually can’t access such info that has been deleted.

What Are Warrant Checks?

Anyone could have an outstanding warrant out for their arrest. An officer who legally stops a person may check police records or call their local station to conduct a records check to see if the stopped individual has any outstanding arrest warrants.

If there is a warrant, the officer may arrest the individual for that warrant. Others may have access to whether a person has an outstanding warrant. In some states, this may be accessed publicly.

However, in many states, only authorized individuals may see if an outstanding warrant exists, such as prosecutors, police officers, court personnel, or defense lawyers representing a person who suspects a warrant exists for their arrest.

Can I Find Out If a Warrant Exists for My Arrest?

You may be able to discover if a warrant exists by contacting the local police or searching for your arrest records. Nevertheless, many state and local agencies do not authorize public access to see if an outstanding warrant exists. If you contact the local police regarding a warrant, they may also arrest you after learning a warrant exists.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you believe you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest, a criminal lawyer may be able to help find out and recommend the best way to resolve the warrant before you are arrested. An attorney can also help you comprehend whether an unlawful search or arrest has infringed your rights. Attorneys can help you expunge your criminal record if you are eligible.