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What is Probable Cause?

Before you can be arrested, police officers must have probable cause that you committed a crime. Without it, they have no right to make an arrest or even obtain a warrant from a judge.

There are a few things you should know about probable cause to give you a better idea of your rights if you believe you are suspected of a criminal offense.

How do law enforcement officers establish probable cause?

To establish probable cause, officers must be able to identify specific, objective circumstances that would reasonably lead them to believe a suspect is guilty of a crime. A so-called “hunch” is not sufficient for probable cause — there must be reasonable suspicion based on objective evidence.

Ultimately, it is up to judges and not police officers to determine if probable cause exists in a case. Officers may truly believe the facts indicate probable cause, but if a judge examines the evidence available and disagrees, he or she would overrule the officer.

It is important to understand that probable cause does not mean a person is guilty of committing a crime, but rather that the officer had reasonable suspicion of the person’s guilt.

What amount of information can establish probable cause?

The question that arises in almost every case relates to how much information is enough for an officer to convince a judge to issue an arrest warrant. Unfortunately, there is no solid definition of probable cause, as it is mostly an abstract concept. Judges must analyze each case on its own merits to determine if probable cause exists to believe a person has committed a crime.


For more information on probable cause and your rights during and after an arrest, contact knowledgeable Berks County criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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