The federal constitution requires that there be probable cause before anyone can be arrested. This is a traditional legal safeguard to help ensure that people are not arrested based on a police officer’s whim – or on anything other than probable cause. Defining exactly what probable cause is, however, is a complicated matter. The fact that there is no exact definition of probable cause in the constitution at either the state or federal level leaves probable cause in a gray area, and wrongful arrests happen.
Detention before Arrest
Before you can be arrested, there must be some kind of interaction between you and the arresting officer. A common example occurs when an officer pulls someone over for a traffic stop (Pulled Over in Texas? Know Your Rights). The fact is that the police can stop you to ask you questions, and it is called detention, and this scenario is different than an arrest. While detention is permissible, rules apply, including:
Such stops should be brief.
Such stops must be based on justifiable reasons.
The detaining officer must possess reasonable suspicion – which includes facts that can be articulated – that led him or her to reasonably conclude that you either did or soon would commit a crime. (What is the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion?)
In other words, a police officer cannot legally detain you for any old reason. He or she must have a reason that can be justified and articulated – a feeling or hunch simply is not enough.
Arrest after Detention
If a police officer has detained you – in a traffic stop, for example – he or she can arrest you without a warrant as long as the officer has probable cause. Probable cause here is based on the officer's knowledge in the matter – if he or she has information that is considered reasonably trustworthy and that would be sufficient to convince a prudent person that you had committed or were about to commit a crime.
Warrants and Probable Cause
Unless the officer has immediate probable cause to arrest you, he or she must obtain an arrest warrant from a judge to do so. This protects your constitutional rights and helps ensure that an overly zealous officer does not jump the gun on the matter. A judge – who may or may not agree with the officer’s assessment of probable cause – must also weigh in on the matter. If the judge does not agree, no arrest warrant will be issued. It is important to recognize, however, that the judge in question can also be found wrong in issuing a warrant when the requisite probable cause is not present. In other words, determining probable cause is a slippery endeavor, and the validity of probable cause in any given case is worth exploring.
If You Are Facing Criminal Charges, It Is Time to Contact a Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing criminal charges, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a formidable criminal defense attorney who is committed to helping you establish your strongest defense. Your rights are important, so please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.