What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a legal standard that law enforcement officials must meet before they can lawfully arrest someone, conduct a search, or obtain a warrant.

In essence, probable cause means that there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed and that the person or thing in question is linked to that crime.

While it is a higher standard than mere suspicion, it is still lower than the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a conviction in a criminal trial.

Probable cause is a fundamental concept enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

The amendment mandates that a warrant for search or arrest must only be issued upon probable cause, which must be supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched or the persons or things to be seized.

Police officers may establish probable cause in various ways, including by relying on witness statements, physical evidence, or observations made during a traffic stop or another encounter with a suspect.

Ultimately, it is up to a judge to decide whether probable cause exists by reviewing the evidence presented and determining whether it is sufficient to support the arrest, search, or other action taken by the officer.