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In United States criminal law, probable cause refers to the standard by which a police officer has the authority to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrant for arrest. It is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jury believes that a crime has been committed. This term comes from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution:

The right of the 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 seized.

Contents

Definitions

The most well-known definition of probable cause is "a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime".[1] Another common definition is "a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person's belief that certain facts are probably true".[2]

In the context of warrants, the Oxford Companion to American Law defines probable cause as "information sufficient to warrant a prudent person's belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime (for an arrest warrant) or that evidence of a crime or contraband would be found in a search (for a search warrant)". "Probable cause" is a stronger standard of evidence than a reasonable suspicion, but weaker than what is required to secure a criminal conviction. Even hearsay can supply probable cause if it is from a reliable source or supported by other evidence, according to the Aguilar-Spinelli test.

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Accident investigation

The term is used in accident investigation to describe the conclusions reached by the investigating body as to the factor or factors which caused the accident. This is primarily seen in reports on aircraft accidents, but the term is used for the conclusion of diverse types of transportation accidents investigated in the United States by the National Transportation Safety Board or its predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Related cases

The Supreme Court decision Illinois v. Gates (1983) lowered the threshold of probable cause by ruling that a "substantial chance" or "fair probability" of criminal activity could establish probable cause. A better-than-even chance is not required.

The decision in Terry v. Ohio (1968) established that "stop and frisks" (seizures) may be made under reasonable suspicion if the officer believes a crime has been committed, is, or soon will be committed with a weapon concealed on such person.

In United States v. Matlock, 415 U. S. 164 (1974), the Court announced the "co-occupant consent rule" which permitted one resident to consent in the co-occupant's absence. The case established that an officer who made a search with a reasonable belief that the search was consented to by a resident did not have to provide a probable cause for the search. However, in Georgia v. Randolph, 126 S. Ct. 1515 (2006) the Supreme Court ruled, thus replacing United States v. Matlock, when officers are presented with a situation wherein two parties, each having authority to grant consent to search premises they share, but one objects over the other's consent, the officers must adhere to the wishes of the non-consenting party.[3]

New Jersey v. T. L. O. (1985) set a special precedent for searches of students at school. The Court ruled that school officials act as state officers when conducting searches, and do not require probable cause to search students' belongings, only reasonable suspicion.

Probable cause hearings

In the various states of the United States, a probable cause hearing is the preliminary hearing typically taking place before arraignment and before a serious crime goes to trial. The judge is presented with the basis of the prosecution's case, and the defendant is afforded full right of cross-examination and the right to be represented by legal counsel. If the prosecution cannot make a case of probable cause, the court must dismiss the case against the accused.

See also

References

  1. ^ 'Lectric Law Library web site. Accessed April 11, 2008.
  2. ^ Handler, J.G., Ballentine's Law Dictionary: Legal Assistant Edition (1994, Albany:Delmar Publishers), at p. 431.
  3. ^ FBI web site

External links


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