Did your arresting officer establish probable cause?

You likely never imagined that your trip home from a night out on the town with friends would end with you sitting behind bars in a Missouri county jail cell. In fact, when the police officer pulled you over, you assumed you had perhaps exceeded the posted speed limit by a few miles and would simply receive a warning or, worst case, a traffic ticket, then go on your way.  

When that’s not how it all played out, you may have understandably begun to panic a bit. Fast forward to the moment officials informed you that you are now facing criminal charges, and you may recall feeling as though the earth had dropped out from underneath your feet. There’s nothing you can do to change a course of events that have already transpired. There may be something you can do, however, to mitigate your circumstances and try to avoid conviction

Understand probable cause 

When the police officer stopped you in traffic, he or she must have had reasonable cause to do so. For instance, claiming to have witnessed your tires veering over the yellow line would suffice. Beyond that, however, the officer must establish probable cause to arrest you. If he or she did not fulfill this obligation, the court may dismiss your case. The following probable cause facts may be useful to you as you try to build a strong defense: 

  • A law enforcement agent must have probable cause to execute a search warrant or take you into police custody.
  • Understanding the difference between reasonable cause to make a traffic stop and probable cause to conduct a search or make an arrest may be a key factor to preserving your freedom. 
  • Even if the attending officer claims to have had reason to conduct a search without a signed warrant, he or she must still establish that probable cause existed to prompt the search. 
  • Police officers are not the only ones who need to establish probable cause; prosecutors must also show probable cause to file criminal charges against you.
  • Any facts or circumstances of which police or prosecutors are aware that would lead the average person to believe you have committed a crime constitute probable cause.  

You do not have to assume that police officers and prosecutors are adhering to the strict protocol that governs their actions in criminal law situations. You can ask someone well-versed in such laws to help you assess the circumstances leading up to and following your arrest to determine whether an officer violated your personal rights.

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