Probable cause

Probable cause

In United States criminal law, probable cause refers to the standard by which a police officer has the right to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrant for arrest. It is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jury believes 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." [ [ '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 hearsay can supply probable cause if it is from a reliable source or is supported by other evidence, according to the "Aguilar-Spinelli test".

Accident investigation

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 States by the National Transportation Safety Board or its predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Related cases

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 suspicion if the officer believes a crime has been committed, is, or soon will be committed with a weapon concealed on such person.

In "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. [ [ 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 States a probable cause hearing is the preliminary hearing that typically takes place after arraignment and before a serious crime goes to trial; the judge is presented with the basis of the prosecution's case and the defendant is afforded full right of cross-examination and 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.


External links

* [ Legal information about probable cause]
*The Lawful Arrest FAQ entry on probable cause [ 1] [ 2] [ 3]
* [ Further information] from
* [ Congressional Research Service]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужен реферат?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • probable cause — see cause 2 Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996. probable cause n …   Law dictionary

  • Probable cause — Probable Prob a*ble, a. [L. probabilis, fr. probare to try, approve, prove: cf. F. probable. See {Prove}, and cf. {Provable}.] [1913 Webster] 1. Capable of being proved. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] 2. Having more evidence for than against; supported by …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • probable cause — n. Law reasonable grounds for presuming guilt in someone charged with a crime …   English World dictionary

  • probable cause — noun (law) evidence sufficient to warrant an arrest or search and seizure a magistrate determined that there was probable cause to search the house • Topics: ↑law, ↑jurisprudence • Hypernyms: ↑evidence, ↑grounds * * * noun [nonco …   Useful english dictionary

  • probable cause hearing — see hearing Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996 …   Law dictionary

  • probable cause — prob′able cause′ n. 1) law reasonable ground for a belief that the accused was guilty of the crime 2) the probability that grounds for the action existed: often used as a defense …   From formal English to slang

  • probable cause — Reasonable cause as shown by the circumstances of the case. Goldstein v Sabella (Fla) 88 So 2d 910, 58 ALR2d 1418 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • probable cause for statement otherwise tortious as defamatory — A reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficient to warrant a cautious man in believing in the truth of the statement pleaded as the basis of a cause of action for defamation. Coates v Wallace, 4 Pa Super 253, 257 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • probable cause to hold accused for trial — Reasonable ground to believe that a crime has been committed and just cause to believe that the defendant committed it. State ex rel. Stevenson v Jameson, 78 SD 431, 104 NW2d 45 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • probable cause — noun Date: circa 1676 a reasonable ground for supposing that a charge is well founded …   New Collegiate Dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”