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When someone is arrested for a crime, the police often seem to have few, if any, restraints on their behavior. Regular stories in the news about police misconduct across the country do not help to change this perception, and as a result, challenging police actions may appear daunting, if not an outright losing battle from the start. Retaining the services of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is the first step in reining in police abuse. While it may look like police can arrest and hold people at will, there are legal procedures in place designed to prevent police from arbitrarily targeting someone. Anytime police want to question, detain, arrest, or search someone, they must have probable cause. This requirement exists when police act with or without a warrant. Providing a clear definition of ‘probable cause’ is not easy since it is based on the subjective belief of the police officers. At its most basic, probable cause exists when police have a reasonable belief a person was involved in a crime or that the item to be searched contains evidence of a crime. If police do not have probable cause, the law says they cannot act. In an effort to reduce unlawful arrests, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, recently signed into law a measure that allows criminal defendants to challenge the probable cause of their arrest, even if they are not currently in custody. Prior to the passage of this act, only those in custody could challenge the legality of their arrest. If a person was arrested and released, the challenge would have to wait until trial, which wastes government resources if the arrest was invalid. The new law will be implemented in three counties as part of a three-year pilot program to assess its impact on state resources.

Probable cause most commonly comes up in two areas in criminal cases: arrests and searches. Given the central importance this issue has in the outcome of criminal cases, an overview of what constitutes sufficient probable cause for arrests and searches will follow below.

Probable Cause – Arrests

The most important point to understand about when police establish probable cause is that their belief must rest on an identifiable objective circumstance, not speculation or suspicion. Police do not need enough information to find a person guilty in a court of law, but do need more than a hunch to arrest someone, which means the officer must have a genuine belief criminal activity is taking place. Ultimately, a judge will determine if probable cause exists. This determination may occur when police request an arrest warrant, or after arrest, if a defendant challenges the validity of police action.

Probable Cause – Searches

While police can conduct a search without a warrant as long as they have probable cause, they are more likely to request a search warrant from a judge to reduce the chance the evidence will be excluded at trial. In order to obtain a search warrant, police must convince a judge a crime was committed and evidence of a crime is likely to be found at the places identified by the police. The contents of the police affidavit do not need to be admissible at trial, but the information presented must appear reliable. The following sources of information are generally accepted as reliable, and are likely to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant:

  • police informant who previously provided good information;
  • an informant who incriminates themselves and their associates;
  • information from an informant that police partially verify as correct;
  • a victim of the crime;
  • a witness to the crime; and
  • another police officer.

Get Help from a California Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you were arrested and/or searched by police for suspicion of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense to protect your rights. An attorney will know how to assess the circumstances of your interaction with police to determine if the police acted in violation of the law. Attorneys at the Manshoory Law Group, APC represent clients throughout Los Angeles, and will work to ensure you receive justice. Lawyers are available 24/7. Contact the office for a free consultation.

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