What Constitutes Probable Cause?

What Constitutes Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a fundamental principle in our criminal justice system. The concept stems from a requirement in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution that says “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” However, the term isn’t defined in the Constitution, so it is subject to interpretation by the courts.

Probable cause must usually be met before police make an arrest, conduct a search or get a warrant. This means that police who wish to arrest or search someone, or get a warrant to do so, must show that they have probable cause to take these actions.  Probable cause can make the difference between being convicted of a crime and having your charges dismissed.

If you or a loved one has been arrested or you have had property searched or seized by law enforcement and you don’t think there was probable cause, you may have your case thrown out or a conviction vacated on appeal. However, due to the seriousness and complexity of Illinois criminal law, it is essential to get top-notch legal assistance.

The experienced Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances and requirements, and will work with you to mount the most effective defense possible.  We offer a free consultation, so call our offices or contact us online for help today if you have been accused of any criminal charges.

Meaning of Probable Cause

Probable cause has a specific meaning in a legal context — there needs to be a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed or that there will be evidence in the place to be searched to either get a search warrant or make an arrest. If a person is arrested without a warrant, they must be brought before a competent authority for prompt judicial determination of whether there is probable cause.

In Illinois, a U.S. Supreme Court case, Illinois v. Gates, vaguely defined probable cause as a “practical, non-technical” standard that calls upon the “factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men would believe that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed.”  This favors a flexible approach and recognizes that probable cause is a concept that is imprecise, fluid and depends on context.

According to The Illinois Constitution and Criminal Code, a search warrant can be issued on the basis of probable cause “upon the written complaint of any person under oath or affirmation.” This means that any private citizen, not just a police officer, can provide a sworn statement identifying a person or place that should be searched and things that should be seized.

Applications of Probable Cause

ARRESTS — The Fourth Amendment requires that any arrest be based on probable cause, even when the arrest comes before getting a warrant. If there is a lack of probable cause, a warrantless arrest becomes invalid, and any evidence resulting from that arrest (such as confessions or drugs found) is not admissible. An exception may be that the arresting officer, as a result of a mistake by court employees, mistakenly and in good faith believes that a warrant has been issued.

SEARCH WARRANTS — Probable cause exists to get a search warrant when there is a good chance the search will result in evidence of a crime being discovered. There must be an affidavit or recorded testimony to support the warrant by explaining on what basis probable cause exists. Since it is presumed that police officers are reliable sources of information, affidavits will often include their observations. If a search is made without a warrant, probable cause can be established later on by in-court testimony.

DIGITAL PROBABLE CAUSE — The digital age and searching data and devices complicates the probable cause situation. In Riley v. California (2014), the Supreme Court ruled that police generally may not search digital information on an arrested person’s cellphone, unless there is a warrant. However, there are new cases due to be heard about seizing information from phone companies that will impact the ability of data companies to share user information with law enforcement.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is not used in allowing or conducting searches. It is used to allow a police officer to stop and detain a person briefly if, in the officer’s trained opinion, there is reason to believe the person is engaging or has engaged in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion uses the standard of a “reasonable law enforcement officer” who learns facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the individual has committed a crime. This could give the officer probable cause to arrest an individual or request a search warrant.

Lack of Probable Cause

Lack of probable cause can destroy a prosecutor’s case. Evidence from a search made without probable cause will be suppressed by the court; if this is the only evidence available, the charges will be dismissed. If police did not act reasonably in finding probable cause when making an initial arrest, evidence discovered related to that arrest will not be allowed in court and can later be a basis for reversing a conviction on appeal.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

If you have been arrested, evidence was seized, or a search was made of your property without probable cause in Illinois, you need to hire a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with probable cause.

The experienced and seasoned Illinois probable cause criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. will examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available in every situation.  We work with our clients throughout the criminal process to come up with an effective defense strategy and determine whether to take a case to trial. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties, rights, and your ability to find employment.

We are aggressive litigators and will answer all your questions and make sure you fully understand the facts surrounding your case.  We represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, and the greater Chicagoland area.

Delaying can only make your situation worse, so call or contact us online today to schedule your free initial consultation.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]