What does “probable cause” mean in Florida?

  • On behalf of Mike G Law posted in on Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens of Florida — and the rest of the United States — from unlawful searches and seizures, the latter of which includes arrests. Even in the case of suspected violent crimes, the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment are foundational. To overcome, such constitutional protections, law enforcement, pursuant to the Amendment’s language, cannot search or seize a person or their property without “probable cause.”

Even a law enforcement officer with a search or arrest warrant was required to make a showing of probable cause. In order to obtain the warrant, the police officer must swear in an affidavit that there is sufficient probable cause to overcome the Fourth Amendment protections afforded to an individual. A judge will ensure that the showing of probable cause is sufficient before signing off on the warrant.

To determine whether probable cause exists, one must examine the totality of the circumstances in an individual case — there is not really a bright-line rule. A law enforcement officer must demonstrate more than a hunch or a mere suspicion. A combination of facts (known to the officer at the time she applies for the warrant) and circumstances sufficient to show that a crime has been committed or may be committed must be demonstrated in the application.

In cases where probable cause was lacking prior to an arrest or search, any evidence found in the course of a subsequent search cannot be used to justify the violation of the Fourth Amendment. This is why Fourth Amendment challenges are crucial in the work of criminal defense. A seasoned defense lawyer will examine the facts of criminal defendant’s case and determine whether there was sufficient probable cause to arrest or charge the defendant with a crime.

Source: FindLaw.com, “Probable Cause,” accessed on April 30, 2018

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