Anyone who has watched a television crime drama or crime documentary program has likely heard the term “probable cause” being used. Indeed, the phrase borders on a term of art, or a mantra: Many know the words, but not so many understand their significance.
If you have been the target of a police search or an arrest, with or without a warrant, then probable cause, and whether it actually exists, has a very real meaning to you.
Probable cause is based on a standard of “reasonableness” when it comes to the judgment of the police officer who is considering whether to make an arrest. Specifically, the test is whether a reasonable person in the officer’s position would conclude that someone has committed a crime. This depends on the facts and circumstances that the police officer is faced with at the time he or she must conclude whether an arrest is warranted.
Reasonable grounds for making an arrest should be distinguished from “reasonable suspicion” which is what a police officer must have to detain an individual without making an arrest. Often, such a detention takes place when the officer believes that an illegal act may have been committed, but lacks probable cause to conduct a further search for evidence needed to make an arrest.
As you can see, when it comes to being charged with a crime the reasonableness test can be a slippery one to apply, and the boundary between reasonable suspicion and probable cause for arrest is not always clear.
Police officers in Tennessee and Kentucky as well as elsewhere in the United States can, and sometimes do, make mistakes in applying the reasonableness standard. If it can be shown that an arresting officer relied on a standard other than reasonableness under the circumstances, such as acting on intuition or on a “hunch,” then it may be possible to challenge an arrest that resulted.
The purpose of this posting is to provide an overview of probable cause, but it is not offered, nor should it be relied upon, as providing legal advice. A criminal defense attorney is the best source for legal advice if you have questions or concerns about probable cause.