John Wesley Hall

You were arrested, but did the officer have legal reason?

The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution gives you certain rights that police must protect even if they suspect you of a crime. Before a police officer can take you into custody, they have to have a reason to do so. Officers here in Little Rock or anywhere else in the country can't just arrest someone.

In order to place someone in custody, police officers must first establish probable cause in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. Otherwise, an officer could place you under arrest simply because he or she felt like it.

What constitutes probable cause?

The framers of the Constitution more than likely kept the definition of probable cause vague on purpose. Since that time, the courts have interpreted that meaning through a series of cases. As a result, the meaning has come to include the following fairly consistent elements:

  • An officer's observations can establish probable cause, especially if the actions typify common behaviors indicative of criminal activity.
  • An officer's experience can with certain behaviors that often lead to criminal activity, such as the presence of tools used to commit certain crimes or gang signs, may be used to establish probable cause.
  • It takes more than an officer's hunch or suspicion to make an arrest, however. Factual evidence must exist.
  • Victims, witnesses and informants may provide officers with statements strong enough to establish probable cause.
  • Circumstantial evidence may be enough for probable cause, even if it does not directly relate to the crime supposedly committed.

An officer may use one or more of the above to place you under arrest. However, that isn't always the end of the story. Just because an officer believes he or she had probable cause to arrest you doesn't mean those reasons would pass the scrutiny of the court. Most officers believe they have probable cause when they make an arrest, but they don't get the final say. The court may determine that the circumstances do not fit into the definition and threshold needed to establish probable cause.

Don't give up so easily

Just because an officer arrested you doesn't mean that you are guilty of whatever crime he or she suspects you of committing. It's possible that he or she violated your constitutional rights by not appropriately establishing a valid legal reason to deprive you of your freedom.

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Little Rock, AR 72202

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