- Probable cause
United States criminal law, probable cause refers to the standard by which a policeofficer has the right to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrantfor arrest. It is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jurybelieves that a crime has been committed. This term comes from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The most widely held, common definition is "a reasonable belief that a person has committed a
crime." [ [http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/p089.htm 'Lectric Law Library web site] . Accesssed April 11, 2008.]
Another definition is that is "a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person's belief that certain facts are probably true." [Handler, J.G., "Ballentine's Law Dictionary: Legal Assistant Edition" (1994, Albany:Delmar Publishers), at p. 431.]
In the context of warrants, the "Oxford Companion to American Law" defines probable cause as "information sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime (for an arrest warrant) or that evidence of a crime or contraband would be found in a search (for a search warrant)." "Probable cause" is a stronger standard of evidence than a
reasonable suspicion, but weaker than what is required to secure a criminal conviction. Even hearsaycan supply probable cause if it is from a reliable source or is supported by other evidence, according to the " Aguilar-Spinelli test".
The term is used in accident investigation to describe the conclusions reached by the investigating body as to the factor or factors which caused the accident. This is primarily seen in reports on aircraft accidents, but the term is used for the conclusion of diverse types of transportation accidents investigated in the
United Statesby the National Transportation Safety Boardor its predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Board.
The Supreme Court decision "
Illinois v. Gates" ( 1983) lowered the threshold of probable cause by ruling that a "substantial chance" or "fair probability" of criminal activity could establish probable cause. A better-than-even chance is not required.
The decision in "
Terry v. Ohio" ( 1968) established that "stop and frisks" (seizures) may be made under reasonable suspicionif the officer believes a crime has been committed, is, or soon will be committed with a weapon concealed on such person.
United States v. Matlock", 415 U. S. 164 ( 1974), the Court announced the "co-occupant consent rule" which permits one resident to consent in the co-occupant's absence. The case established that an officer who makes a search with a reasonable belief that the search was consented to by a resident does not have to provide a probable cause for the search.However, in " Georgia v. Randolph", 126 S. Ct. 1515 ( 2006) the Supreme Court ruled, when officers are presented with a situation wherein two parties, each having authority to grant consent to search premises they share, but one objects over the other’s consent, the officers must adhere to the wishes of the non-consenting party. [ [http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2006/october2006/october2006leb.htm#page24 FBI web site] ]
New Jersey v. T. L. O." ( 1985) set a special precedent for searches of students at school. The Court ruled that school officials act as state officers when conducting searches, and do not require probable cause to search students' belongings, only reasonable suspicion.
Probable cause hearings
In the various states of the
United Statesa probable cause hearing is the preliminary hearing that typically takes place after arraignmentand before a serious crime goes to trial; the judgeis presented with the basis of the prosecution's case and the defendantis afforded full right of cross-examinationand the right to be represented by legal counsel. If the prosecution cannot make out a case of probable cause the court must dismiss the case against the accused.
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20080102040655/http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/315/315lect06.htm Legal information about probable cause]
*The Lawful Arrest FAQ entry on probable cause [http://stason.org/TULARC/society/lawful-arrest/1-2-What-is-Probable-Cause.html 1] [http://binghamtonpmc.org/bhuston/lawful_arrest/LAFAQ.html 2] [http://freedom-school.com/lawful-arrest-search-seizure.html#1-2 3]
* [http://www.flexyourrights.org/facts/probable-cause-definition.html Further information] from Flexyourrights.org
* [http://fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/m013006.pdf Congressional Research Service]
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