Probable cause and how it works

In America, law enforcement does not have the authority to impede citizens’ rights without reason. This reason is known as probable cause and it’s one of the most vital parts of the executive branch. What probable cause means is in order for law enforcement to take action against a suspect, there must be a reason that can be explained as to why they are being targeted in the first place. Probable cause can be obtained in various ways but it is important to know how it works and what rights the suspect has in these situations. Here is an overview.

Arrests and detainment and not the same

Many assume that arrests and detainment are one and the same, however, there is a key difference that makes the way probable cause is defined vastly different depending on circumstance. If a suspect is arrested, it means that law enforcement already has enough probable cause or circumstantial evidence to show the courts that the suspect has a connection to the crime. Detainment differs because there are no actual charges but the police are suspicious about the suspect’s situation and want to obtain more information. It’s important to note that detainment does not mean that police can simply harass anyone on the street, however. An example of when detainment can happen is if someone is driving and not able to stay in their lane. The police may pull this person over and while they may not have done anything illegal yet, the manner in which they were driving may be enough to detail them to further evaluate if they are on something that could be impairing their driving ability. If they find nothing, they could be let go but if the tests find them to be inebriated, then they have probable cause to arrest.  

Law enforcement can’t just seize assets

The seizing of assets can feel extremely unjust if you felt you have done nothing wrong and you may wonder if you have the power to avoid this. The answer is, it’s complicated but you are not without rights. The first thing to know is that property can be seized during a search but a suspect must first approve of the search unless law enforcement already has a warrant in hand. The other time a seizing of assets can happen is when arrests are being made and the property being seized is automatically retrieved to potentially be submitted as evidence in a case.

When searches are lawful

As said previously, searches are only considered lawful when either the officer has already obtained a warrant to search, the suspect willingly consents to have their property searched, or when an arrest is being made and surrounding items can be included as evidence. For the most part, if the evidence is obtained in any other way, it would most likely be thrown out in court but it is not always so. If an officer obtains evidence of a crime that affects public safety or national security, it can be used against the defendant in a case even if it was illegally obtained.