What is the Definition of Probable Cause?

vehicle window cracked, what is probable cause

What is the Definition of Probable Cause?


If you’ve ever been pulled over and had your car searched, or been arrested for a crime, you may be left wondering if probable cause was established. You might even want to know exactly what probable cause is, to begin with. 


What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a condition that must be met before the police can:


  • Make an arrest
  • Conduct a search
  • Gain a warrant


This is a requirement of your Fourth Amendment right. This amendment states, “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” This means probable cause must be established by the officer before searching your vehicle or before gaining a warrant for arrest. If information and/or evidence was gathered without probable cause, this evidence will be suppressed. When evidence is suppressed, it’s left out of the court’s decision. 

If an arrest or search was made without probable cause, you’ll want to ask your lawyer to challenge the officer’s decision. 

The notion of probable cause is flexible. However, the general rule is that a reasonable person must think a basis exists for believing a crime has been committed

Can an officer search my vehicle without a warrant? Yes, they can. But only if probable cause exists. In regards to a search, probable cause can exist when the officer has decent anticipation of his/her search ending in the discovery or evidence of a crime.


Can probable cause be established after a search/arrest?

Yes, probable cause can be established after the fact. In urgent circumstances, an arrest or search may happen before a warrant is obtained. In these cases, probable cause must still be present, but it will be settled promptly following the events. Generally a neutral authority, like a justice of the peace or judicial officer, will determine if probable cause existed. 

One thing to keep in mind is that consent qualifies as probable cause. If you’ve been pulled over, the officer may try to intimidate you into accepting a search of your vehicle. So, do you have to consent to a search? Absolutely not! By law, the officer is not required to inform you of your right to refuse a search. Yet, it is your right. You may say, “Officer, I don’t consent to a search.” 


Been searched without probable cause?

Talk to your lawyer and ask to file a motion to suppress. Todd Coolidge has helped hundreds of people in the state of Arizona. If there is a violation of your constitutional rights, Mr. Coolidge will find it. Let a Certified Criminal Law Specialist handle your case—don’t mess around when it comes to your future.


Photo in the Public Domain