What is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is a legal doctrine by which law enforcement officials have
the right to make an arrest without a warrant, obtain a warrant for arrest,
or conduct a personal or property search. Although a variety of factors
contribute to a police officer’s level of authority in any given
situation, probable cause needs evidence or facts that would result in
a reasonable person to believe that a suspect has committed a criminal offense.
The probable cause requirement derives from the Fourth Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution, which states that “the right of 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, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly
describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.”
Common instances of probable cause include an admission of guilt for a
specific crime or the sight and smell of contraband in plain view or plain
smell. The presence of any of these facts gives permission to an officer
to perform a search and make an arrest.
What Probable Cause Means to You
Although there are specific circumstances where law enforcement officials
need a warrant to search you or your property, during a traffic stop,
however, police only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle.
The exception to probable cause requirement for vehicle searches is consent.
In most cases, vehicle searches conducted by police do not occur because
they have probable cause. Instead, they happen because people are often
tricked or intimidated into consenting to search requests.
It is imperative to understand that consenting to a search request automatically
makes the search legal. Furthermore, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t
require officers to inform you about your right to refuse.
So if you are pulled over, do not try to determine whether or not the officer
has probable cause to legally search you. You always have the right to
refuse search requests by saying, “Sir, I do not consent to any
If you do not offer consent, but the officer searches you anyway and finds
illegal items on your person, your attorney can file a motion to suppress
– or dismiss – any evidence in court. If the judge decides
that the officer’s search violated the Fourth Amendment’s
probable cause requirements, he or she will grant the motion. Unless the
prosecution has any other forms of evidence, the charges against you would
If you were arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Texas,
contact our El Paso lawyer at the
Law Offices of Ruben Ortiz today.