What is Probable Cause?

“Probable Cause” is the standard used to determine whether or not there is sufficient reason to make an arrest.  In the case of Bryant v. State,  the Second District Court of Appeals described probable cause, as follows:

“Probable cause for an arrest has been defined to be a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty. * * * It is not necessary for the officer to see and know that the law is being violated. Nor is it necessary for him to satisfy himself beyond question that a felony has in fact been committed, to justify an arrest without a warrant, though he may not act on unsubstantial appearances or unreasonable stories.” 4 Am.Jur., Arrest, Sec. 48, pp. 32-34.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

The stopping of a motorist is reasonable and constitutionally valid “where a police officer has probable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred.” Hurd v. State, 958 So.2d 600, 602 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). An officer has probable cause “where the facts and circumstances within an officer’s knowledge and of which he had reasonable trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a [person] of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed.” Stone v. State, 856 So.2d 1109, 1111 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) (quoting State v. Byham, 394 So.2d 1142, 1143 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981) ).

There are many cases where the police stop a car because they have reasonable suspicion, and after stopping the vehicle, they obtain probable cause for an arrest.  One example the author has seen occur on a number of occasions is where a minor (or perhaps not so minor) traffic infraction is committed.  A recent example the author cites to is where a vehicle in Jacksonville was traveling normally, but the license plate bulb was out and, therefore, not illuminated.  Such is a minor traffic infraction.  The policeman pulled the car over and when the driver rolled down his window, the police officer claimed that he could smell the odor of burnt marijuana.  The officer inquired as to whether anyone in the vehicle had a marijuana card (smoking marijuana is legal with a prescription) and the answer was no.  The officer then had probable cause to search the car.  The officer found a gun hidden on the drivers side of the car and cocaine in the console.  Although the charges were eventually dropped, both the driver and passenger were charged with constructive cocaine possession, which is a felony.  The driver was also charged with illegal concealed possession of a firearm.  In this case, a simple light being out led to felony charges, which might have been sustained if the state did not use its discretion and voluntarily drop the case.  The author has seen similar criminal issues come up where one has placed the incorrect license plate on their vehicles from another vehicle.  This is a crime and will provide the police with probable cause to search a vehicle and to make an arrest.

The author reflects on a case in which the reason a driver whom he represented was stopped was due to the owner of the vehicle (who was his father in-law) he was driving having recently turned in his driver’s license to the state.  The owner was in his late 80’s and thought that it would be wise to stop driving due to physical limitations.  The driver was in his 30’s, but he was stopped strictly because the police believed the 80 year old was driving.  It was apparent that the driver was not 80 when one looked at him in the window.  Ultimately, the Assistant State Attorney voluntarily dismissed the case because it should have been obvious that the owner was not the driver.  As it turned out, the driver lacked a valid driver’s license, but he likely would have been able to suppress the evidence following the illegal stop and the state did not want to waste their time on a likely losing case.  Such was also the ethical thing to do in the author’s view.

What Should You do If You Are Stopped and Charged with a Crime?

If you have been stopped by the police while driving and charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal attorney to find out whether you may be able to suppress the evidence against you.  The author has experienced numerous cases of police not complying with the law, which has resulted in criminal charges being dismissed.  Call the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, and speak to an experienced criminal attorney to understand your rights.  Call (904) 990-8000 for a free initial consultation today.

About the author

Neil Weinreb is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing and has been working on criminal and civil cases for almost 20 years in North Florida.  Mr. Weinreb works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida.   Mr. Weinreb has worked as an adjunct professor teaching law to paralegal students at Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can contact Mr. Weinreb at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation.  Mr. Weinreb has received the highest rating from Martindale Hubbell, AV Preeminent.



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