Probable cause has a very precise meaning under the law. If a judge issues a warrant, such as a search warrant, he or she must make the initial determination as to whether probable cause for the search exists. However, when a police officer is the one making the probable cause determination at a traffic stop or scene of a crime, the decision must be based upon all of the facts and circumstances at the officer’s disposal.
In order for there to be probable cause, the facts and circumstances must be such as to lead a reasonable person to believe a crime was being committed—and that the defendant was the one committing the crime. In the property context, the officer must have a reasonable belief that the property at issue is stolen (or contraband).
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unlawful searches and seizures. In some cases, a skilled attorney can challenge searches and seizures of persons or property on constitutional grounds. If you have been charged with a crime in the State of Florida, the experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense lawyers at Khonsari Law Group can examine your case and determine whether you may be able to challenge your charge or arrest on constitutional grounds.
The Reasonable Person Standard
When it comes to probable cause, the reasonable person standard applies. The reasonable person standard is an objective test. In the probable cause context, the reasonable person standard is based upon the information that an ordinary, reasonable person would have at his or her disposal when taking into account all of the facts and circumstances surrounding a crime.
In other words, if a reasonable person would have probable cause to believe that a crime occurred—and that the defendant committed it—the officer likely had probable cause as well.
Difference between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
Generally speaking, reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is basically a “hunch” that an officer may base on certain facts. For example, if a person drives a motor vehicle erratically on the highway, exceeds the speed limit, or violates a red light law, that is usually enough to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion.
However, in order for an officer to search the vehicle, the officer must normally have probable cause—or the driver must consent to a vehicle search. The smell of marijuana emanating from a vehicle, for example, is likely enough probable cause to allow the officer to search the vehicle. If the vehicle search leads to the discovery of other drugs or weapons, the driver could likely be charged accordingly.
Call a St. Petersburg, Florida, Criminal Defense Lawyer Today to Discuss Your Case
For an officer to make a valid arrest, the officer must ordinarily have probable cause, as well as a warrant. In the absence of a warrant, a “warrant exception” may apply, such as when a defendant consents to the search. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, the criminal defense lawyers at Khonsari Law Group are ready and willing to assist you with your case and may be able to raise a challenge as to probable cause.
Call our St. Petersburg, Florida, criminal defense lawyers at (727) 269-5300, or contact us online.