Probable Cause - Explained
What is Probable Cause?
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Table of ContentsWhat is Probable Cause?Landmark Probable Cause Case
What is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is a criminal law requirement that must be met in order for police to carry out an arrest, conduct a search, obtain a warrant, or seize property.
The probable cause requirement arises from the U.S. Constitutions Fourth Amendment, which provides for citizens right to freedom from unnecessary government intrusion into their homes, persons, and businesses.
Probable cause is pertinent in two criminal law parts. First, it is compulsory that the police have probable cause before searching an individual or property, and also before they can make an arrest. Second, the court must see a probable cause in order to believe the defendant committed the crime before prosecution is carried out.
Back To: Legal Disputes: Civil and Criminal Law
When there is a search warrant, police must only search for the things described in the warrant, despite the fact that they can seize evidence of other crimes or contraband found. But supposing the search is illegal, any evidence found is subjected to the Exclusionary rule and cant be utilized against the defendant in court.
Landmark Probable Cause Case
In the development of probable cause and search warrants, Illinois v. Gates is a landmark case. In May 1978, Bloomingdale, Illinois police department got a letter from an unknown source highlighting explicit information about the defendants plans Gates and others to move drugs from Florida to Illinois. The police got a search warrant from a judge based on the anonymous letter and a signed affidavit. When Gates got home, the Bloomingdale police ransacked the car, recovered about 350 lbs of marijuana and also more marijuana, as well as weapons in the residence of Gates. But, the Illinois Circuit Court referred to the search as unlawful as the affidavit didnt provide enough evidence for establishing enough reason, leading to the exclusion of the evidence gotten based on the warrant. The case was moved to the Supreme Court which reversed the ruling of the Illinois court. Ruling in favor of the State of Illinois, the Supreme Court declined the Aguilar-Spinelli test. This test is a judicial guideline which the Supreme Court established for examining a search warrants validity or an arrest with no search warrant on the basis of information provided by an anonymous tip or confidential informant. The Aguilar-Spinelli tests two prongs state that, when a magistrate signs a search warrant requested by the police, he or she must be kept abreast of:
- the reasons for supporting the conclusion that the informant is trustworthy and credible; and
- certain underlying circumstances which the informant relies upon.
On the court, the Supreme Court used a totality-of-the-circumstances standard, as more evidence of Gates involvement in drug trafficking existed asides the letter by itself. For example, Florida was prominent for illicit drugs, and Gates stay in a motel for just one night aroused suspicion. Furthermore, the Court agreed that the anonymous letter by itself wouldnt be probable cause for getting a warrant, while the Aguilar-Spinellis reliability prong was unlikely to be satisfied, at any point, by an anonymous tip. Generally, the Supreme Courts verdict, in this situation, lowered the threshold of probable cause by ruling that it can be established by fair probability or a substantial chance of criminal activity, as against a better-than-even chance.