Probable Cause

Probable Cause in the United States

Contents:

Standard of evidence used to assess various governmental actions in criminal matters. Probable cause is a level of evidence required to convince a judicial officer to issue an arrest or search warrant or bind a case over for trial. The level of evidence needed for probable cause is not as substantial as that required to prove guilt. Probable cause relates to reasonable inferences rather than technical judgments based’ on rigid requirements. In Draper v. United States (385 U.S. 307: 1959), the Supreme Court spoke of “probabilities that focused closely enough on a person or location to allow a neutral magistrate to authorize an arrest or search.” The standard established in Draper holds that probable cause exists when trustworthy information known to authorities is sufficient to encourage a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed.

See Also

Bind Over (Criminal Process) Reasonable Doubt (Criminal Process) Warrant (Criminal Process).

Analysis and Relevance

Probable cause is a standard that governs police and prosecutors. In order to obtain a warrant to arrest or search, police officers must have at least enough evidence to demonstrate the probable involvement of a person in criminal conduct. The standard can be met by providing evidence such as direct observation of a criminal act by an officer, indirect observation through informants, physical evidence, or witness accounts of criminal behavior. Police are permitted to act in the absence of a warrant, but must establish that probable cause existed at the time the action was taken. The probable cause standard also applies to prosecutorial charging decisions. Prosecutors must have at least probable cause to formally charge. The sufficiency of evidence is assessed by a judicial officer in response to an information filed by a prosecutor or presented at a preliminary hearing. The probable cause burden on the prosecution is sometimes called making a prima facie case. Prima facie means “at first sight,” and refers to a claim that may be sufficient without further support. If the prosecutor establishes probable cause, a criminal case is bound over for trial. In order to prove guilt at trial, the prosecutor must meet the more demanding standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to establish probable cause at a preliminary hearing or by information results in dismissal of charges without trial.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Probable Cause from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Probable Cause Definition

Such a state of facts as to make it a reasonable presumption that their supposed existence was the cause of action. The principal technical use of the phrase is to define the degree of certainty which will justify one in instituting a criminal prosecution, and relieve from liability for malicious prosecution should the charge prove unfounded. As so used, probable cause” is such a state of facts known to and influencing the prosecutor as would lead a man of ordinary caution and prudence, acting conscientiously, impartially, reasonably, and without prejudice, to believe, or entertain an honest and strong suspicion, that the person accused is guilty. Hilliard, Torts, c. 12, § 18; 81 Ala. 220; 62 N. Y. 19. Belief in the guilt of the person accused must exist (67 Wis. 350), but is not in itself sufficient (56 Mich. 367), if ordinary care, diligence, and impartiality were not exercised (60 Miss. 916).

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Legal Issue for Attorneys

Such a state of facts as to make it a reasonable presumption that their supposed existence was the cause of action. The principal technical use of the phrase is to define the degree of certainty which will justify one in instituting a criminal prosecution, and relieve from liability for malicious prosecution should the charge prove unfounded. As so used, probable cause” is such a state of facts known to and influencing the prosecutor as would lead a man of ordinary caution and prudence, acting conscientiously, impartially, reasonably, and without prejudice, to believe, or entertain an honest and strong suspicion, that the person accused is guilty. Hilliard, Torts, c. 12, § 18; 81 Ala. 220; 62 N. Y. 19. Belief in the guilt of the person accused must exist (67 Wis. 350), but is not in itself sufficient (56 Mich. 367), if ordinary care, diligence, and impartiality were not exercised (60 Miss. 916).

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Notice

This definition of Probable Cause Is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary . This definition needs to be proofread..

Plain-English Law

Probable Cause as defined by Nolo’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (p. 437-455):

The amount and quality of information a judge must have before signing a warrant allowing the police to conduct a search or arrest a suspect. If the police have presented reliable information that convinces the judge that it’s more likely than not that a crime has occurred and the suspect is involved, the judge will conclude that there is probable cause and will issue the warrant.

Practical Information

Note: Some of this information was last updated in 1982

Reasonable cause; probable cause is required for a valid search and/or seizure or arrest; that is, a good reason is required for the search and/or seizure or arrest.

(Revised by Ann De Vries)

What is Probable Cause?

For a meaning of it, read Probable Cause in the Legal Dictionary here. Browse and search more U.S. and international free legal definitions and legal terms related to Probable Cause.

Probable Cause

United States Constitution

According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, about its article titled PROBABLE CAUSEThe fourth amendment guarantees in part that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause.” The determination of probable cause
(read more about Constitutional law entries here).

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Probable Cause Meaning in Law Enforcement

The finding necessary in order to return an indictment against a person accused of a federal crime. A finding of probable cause is proper only when the evidence presented to the grand jury, without any explanation being offered by the accused, persuades 12 or more grand jurors that a federal crime has probably been committed by the person accused.

Meaning of Probable Cause

In plain or simple terms, Probable Cause means: A court decides there’s reasonable grounds that a person should be arrested or searched.

Arraignment and Probable Cause: Main Elements

The coverage of Arraignment and Probable Cause includes the following element(s):

Miranda Rights

Find out an overview of this topic, in relation to Arraignment and Probable Cause, in the legal Ecyclopedia.

References

See Also

  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure

Probable Cause: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

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