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Understanding probable cause

The U.S. Constitution, for too many Americans, is something they studied in high school and have long forgotten about, or perhaps don't remember accurately. However, many of our basic protections in this country emanate from this centuries-old document. One of them involves "probable cause."

The term "probable cause" comes directly from the Fourth Amendment, which gives Americans the right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." People cannot be arrested or have their property searched or seized by law enforcement officers without adequate reason.

If officers haven't witnessed someone committing a crime or don't have probable cause to believe that he or she did, they need to obtain a warrant from a judge to arrest that person. However, many arrests occur without a warrant. For example, if a person is pulled over for swerving around the road and then fails a Breathalyzer test, officers have probable cause to arrest that driver for DUI.

Officers must have more than a suspicion that a person has committed a crime to arrest him or her. There needs to be circumstances and facts that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that a crime was committed.

People can be temporarily detained by officers without probable cause. Sometimes officers will detain people, either in their vehicle or on foot, while they wait for a search warrant to be issued. In order to get a warrant, an officer must sign an affidavit that specifies why he or she believes that an arrest, search or seizure is warranted. A judge then decides whether or not to issue the warrant.

If you are arrested and believe that the arresting officer didn't have probable cause, it's imperative that you tell your Tennessee criminal defense attorney immediately. One of the key responsibilities of attorneys is to ensure that none of their client's constitutional rights were or are violated.

Source: FindLaw, "Probable Cause," accessed April 20, 2018

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