Here in the United States, we have certain rights guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. One of the most important rights is the 4th Amendment right to be secure in your person, house, effects, and papers against unreasonable search and seizure.
Probable cause, search warrants, arrests, and other aspects of the legal process are closely linked together. For example, search and arrest warrants cannot be issued by a court without the probable cause being established.
Probable Cause and Warrants
This means that in order for a search warrant to be issued, probable cause must be established. In order to get a warrant, an officer signs an affidavit affirming their side of the facts that probable cause exists for a search, seizure, or arrest. Courts are reliant on officers being honest and presenting accurate information. If an officer personally witnesses a crime they can arrest without a warrant. The defense team in later proceedings can challenge warrantless arrests.
Probable Cause and Temporary Detention
Temporary detentions do not require probable cause to be executed. Some examples of temporary detentions are traffic stops, questioning pedestrians, and others. These stops only require “reasonable suspicion”, not an elevated probable cause standard.
Detention can progress into a formal arrest if the officer develops probable cause to charge you for a crime as a result of questioning. For you, the line between detention and arrest can be unclear, which is why it's key to know your rights.
Probable Cause for Arrest
If a police officer announces a detainee is under arrest and puts on the handcuffs, then an arrest is obviously taking place. At that moment, the officer must have developed probable cause to believe the detainee has committed a specific crime.
Probable Cause is a lesser standard than the “preponderance of evidence” standard used in court (especially in civil cases) but is elevated from the “reasonable suspicion” standard for temporary detention.
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