Whether you face charges for drug crimes, white collar crimes or violent crimes (any crime, in fact), you may be aware that you have a right under the United States Constitution to be free from unreasonable (and illegal) searches and seizures. This means that Arkansas law enforcement officials involved in your case must have a legal right to conduct a search or to seize your property.
The law refers to this legal basis as “probable cause.” Any number of scenarios could provide this prerequisite, but in some cases, officers, detectives or investigators end up crossing the line from a legal search to an illegal one. Even if it was unintentional, the results of the search may not be admissible in court if probable cause was absent.
A “gut feeling” isn’t enough to substantiate a search
Many law enforcement officials rely on their instincts, especially after several years of service. That may help them stay alive and unhurt, but it is far from enough to substantiate a search. For instance, when going before a judge to obtain a search warrant, an officer must prove to the court that there is enough evidence to order the search.
Searches also occur without a warrant under certain circumstances, but officers must still prove that probable cause existed for any of the alleged evidence gathered to be entered into evidence in court.
What types of alleged evidence can provide probable cause?
The types of evidence that may provide a law enforcement official with the requisite probable cause include the following:
- An officer’s expertise in a certain area may lead to evidence of a crime. For instance, an officer trained in detecting signs of drug use could provide probable cause for a drug-related DUI.
- When officials put together a group of facts, they may allude to the commission of a crime. Such circumstantial evidence does not constitute direct evidence.
- If an officer hears, sees or smells something suspicious, it may provide probable cause. In keeping with the prior example, such observational evidence could include watching your vehicle swerve as you drive or the smell of marijuana coming from your vehicle during a traffic stop.
- Information from confidential informants, other officers and witnesses could also provide probable cause.
Just because it appears that law enforcement officials had probable cause to arrest you does not mean they actually did. You have the right to challenge the official version of events and require proof of probable cause that may or may not stand up to the scrutiny of the court.
Just because you are suspected of wrongdoing, that does not erase your constitutional rights. When you see the phrase to “protect and serve” on a police cruiser, that does not only apply to protecting the public — it also applies to protecting your rights in your encounters with law enforcement.