An illegal search is one made by police without a search warrant and with unreasonable suspicion. The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. To lawfully search a person or their property, police need probable cause.

What Is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a reasonable belief that an individual will commit or has committed a crime, or the search will be deemed unreasonable. For a reasonable belief to exist, there must be factual evidence to support it, not simply a hunch or “gut feeling.”

How Is Probable Cause Established?

A police officer can establish probable cause in multiple ways, including:

  • Police officer’s observations, including sights, sounds, and smells
  • Police officer’s training or expertise which helps them identify gestures, movements, tools, preparation indicating criminal activity
  • Circumstantial evidence
  • Information from informants, witnesses, and victims

What Are the Elements Needed to Determine Probable Cause?

Since probable cause is the basic standard use to determine if a crime has occurred or is occurring, police need the following elements:

  • Validity of knowledge, which means that the knowledge is accurate
  • Reliability of knowledge

Can Police Use Probable Cause to Obtain a Warrant?

Yes. A judge can sign an order for a search in connection with a crime. A judge will only authorize police to search a person or property after determining if there is enough probable cause to do so.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about Probable Cause?

Law enforcement may have probable cause to make an arrest or search property. However, that does not mean you are guilty of a crime. To understand more about probable cause and how to defend yourself in a criminal case, contact a criminal attorney.