What Is Probable Cause?

What is probable cause?

When a police officer conducts an arrest, probable cause is the standard used to justify a search by police.  It simply is the legal basis upon which a legal search by a policeman or police agency can be based.  The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

How does a warrant get issued?

When a court issues a search warrant there must be “probable cause” to do so.  Typically, a police officer will complete an affidavit, which informs the court of the facts that they are aware of based upon their personal knowledge and from the reports of other witnesses.  The court may issue either a search warrant or an arrest warrant after reviewing the officer’s affidavit.  The judge must rely on the police officer’s truthfulness.  An officer may make a warrantless arrest if he witnesses the crime himself or under circumstances involving some specific crimes (i.e. domestic battery).  A video of a crime has been found to be sufficient to make a warrantless arrest.  Warrantless crimes are frequently subject to legal challenge by a Defendant.

What is the fruit of the poisonous tree?

The fruit of the poisonous tree refers to a term use to describe evidence that is tainted because it was obtained illegally.  If, for instance, the police made an illegal stop (without probable cause) and they obtained damning evidence against a Defendant, that evidence could possibly be excluded from use against the Defendant.  The idea is to prevent law enforcement from violating the rights of a Defendant.  The incentive to use illegally obtained evidence is nullified be a prohibition on the use of such evidence.

How does the doctrine of the fruit if the poisonous tree work?

In the case of State v. Campbell, the court found that a warrantless search and seizure took place.  State v. Campbell, 371 U.S. 471; 83 S. Ct. 407; 9L.Ed.2d 441.  In this case, the police held on to the driver’s license of the Defendant, which the Court rationalized placed him in a mindset of not being able to leave (the Defendant did not believe that he was free to leave).  Here, the Defendant gave permission to search, but the permission was given while the Defendant did not believe that he was free to leave.  In this case, the Court found that the Defendant’s mindset was relevant to whether or not the search was voluntary, as he did not believe he was free to leave.  The result was that the Court suppressed the evidence obtained against the Defendant.  The case should be read in its entirety, as there were other factors that the Court looked at, as well.  There are numerous cases where a lack of probable cause was the reason that the evidence was suppressed.  However, depending on the facts, the courts will sometimes rationalize that the state (police) would have discovered the evidence without the violation.  This can sometime be used to justify denying suppression of the evidence.

If you are charged with a crime involving possible suppression of evidence, consult with an experienced criminal attorney today. 

If you are a litigant in a criminal case, an experienced attorney can help determine your best course of action.  Call the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, and speak to an experienced 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 regularly works on cases and has for over 17 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.




Contact Information