The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that no U.S. citizen can be subject to an unreasonable search or seizure without a warrant backed by probable cause. This fundamental protection is core to protecting the rights of American citizens from potential abuse by law enforcement. But what exactly is “probable cause,” and what happens when police conduct a search or seizure without it?
What is “Probable Cause?”
In simple terms, probable cause is any evidence that indicates that a crime is, was, or will be committed. This evidence must be reasonably reliable and trustworthy, so that it can be used to justify a search or seizure. When used as part of a search warrant or arrest warrant, the probable cause for the search or arrest must be detailed in the warrant application, and reviewed by a magistrate. However, police do not always require a warrant to conduct a search or seizure, but they always must have probable cause for the search or seizure to be considered legal.
What Counts as Probable Cause of a Crime?
There is no end to the number of things that may constitute probable cause of a potential crime. It could come in the form of physical evidence that indicates a potential criminal act, such as open bottles of alcohol in the cabin of a car (indicating potential driving under the influence) or unexplained blood stains (which could be a sign of a potential assault or other violent crime). It could also come in the form of witness testimony, security footage, or cell phone pictures that depict or describe someone committing a criminal act.
What Happens When a Search is Conducted Without Probable Cause?
When the police conduct a search without probable cause, there is little you can do about it at the time. However, if you are formally arraigned on a crime as a result of the search, you can make a motion to have any evidence from the improper search declared invalid, meaning it cannot be used in court against you. This can significantly improve your odds of a favorable outcome in your case.
What Should You Do if the Police Searched Your Property?
If you have had your property searched by law enforcement, or had property seized by them during that search, you should call a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney with experience handling criminal defense matters can help you to protect your rights, including contesting potentially questionable searches or seizures. Do not wait until it is too late to protect yourself from the worst possible consequences of a criminal case.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.