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What is probable cause in a search and seizure?


When facing a drug crime, many defendants in North Carolina question how it got to this point. What information did law enforcement use to interact with them and what evidence was used to arrest and charge them? It is not always clear to those facing drug charges that the evidence collected against them isn't always sound. This means that it was not legally collected or the standards used by law enforcement were not followed when they collected and handled evidence. Thus, it is important to question the evidence used against you.

What is probable cause? In terms of criminal law, this is a requirement for police to have adequate reason to carry out certain acts. This includes placing a person under arrest and conducting a search and seizure. If these are not followed, the evidence collected could be suppressed through a motion claiming an unlawful search and seizure.

How did the probable cause standard arise? This standard evolved from the Fourth Amendment, which provides the right for individuals to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects when it comes to unreasonable searches and seizures. A standard needs to be established when determining whether a warrant was required and if there was enough information to obtain a warrant to arrest, search or seize.

Law enforcement must have probable cause to arrest a person without a warrant and to search and seize property without a warrant. Additionally, prosecutors are required to have probable cause to charge a defendant with the alleged crime.

With regards to probable cause for a search, this exists when the facts and circumstances known to the police officer provide a basis for a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been committed in the place to be searched or that evidence of the crime in question is located at the location to be searched. When a search warrant is obtained, it must specify the place to be searched and the items to be seized. Failing to follow these guidelines could cause the search and seizure to be unlawful.

With regards to drug crimes, officers are likely to collect much evidence whether it is following the search of a vehicle after a traffic stop or after a warrant is issued at their place of residence. While evidence has likely piled up, defendants should take the time to understand their defense options and ways to reduce or eliminate the evidence used against them.

Source: FindLaw, "Probable Cause," accessed March 4, 2018

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