Understanding Probable Cause and 4th Amendment Searches
Television shows and movies may create a false picture of what it is like when someone is served with a search warrant by law enforcement. Many citizens are left with the impression of a polite knock on the door, presentation of the warrant, and then entry by police. While, in reality, that may happen from time to time, the truth is that conducting searches is not always as simple as what is shown on the screen.
What Makes a Search Legal?
The 4th Amendment protects citizens from an illegal search and seizure of property. This requires that, in most cases, law enforcement obtain a search warrant prior to conducting a search. To secure a search warrant, a judge must be convinced there is probable cause for police to enter private property.
Because the 4th Amendment does not define “probable cause,” that burden falls to the courts. One commonly shared explanation of the term is as follows:
- In 1949, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote, “… probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officer’s’ knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.
- Perhaps a more basic definition might be that:
- Probable cause results when the level of evidence rises above that of mere suspicion.
- Here are few additional examples to help one better understand probable cause. Compared to other legally accepted levels of suspicion or proof, probable cause is greater than “reasonable suspicion,” but it is:
- much less than proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
- much less than “clear and convincing proof.”
- less than a “preponderance of the evidence.”
What Makes a Warrantless Search Legal?
It is true that, at times, police may conduct a search of a vehicle or home without first securing a warrant. There are a few criteria that make that possible, including, but not limited to:
- Illegal items left in plain sight of law enforcement, be they in a vehicle when stopped by police, or in the home when opening the door after officers knock.
- Admission of wrongdoing after being observed in an illegal act by police, as well as other pressing circumstances.
Be it guns, drugs or narcotics, or other property seized during a search, it is important to retain an attorney who understands the distinctions of probable cause, and legal searches.
Meet with a Joliet Criminal Defense Attorney
If you believe that law enforcement personnel illegally searched your home, vehicle, or person, it is important to speak with a legal professional who understands the nuances of search warrants. Contact an experienced and knowledgeable Will County defense lawyer to discuss your concerns, as well as any charges you may be facing. The Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba will direct a thorough review of the details to build a strong defense on your behalf.