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Did police have probable cause to search or arrest you?

Posted on January 16, 2019

If you have had encounters with Colorado police, you may know that they have clever methods of obtaining the information they want. This may include asking leading questions or suggesting negative consequences if you fail to cooperate. One line over which law enforcement may not step is arresting you without probable cause.

Understanding the concept of probable cause and your rights related to police investigations is essential to ensuring you do not mistakenly surrender those rights. The results of your case may hinge on whether police violated your rights at any time during their investigation or your arrest.

What is probable cause?

Probable cause means police have a reason to believe you are involved in some criminal activity. Without probable cause, police may not search you, search your home or vehicle, or place you under arrest. They may not obtain a warrant for any of these actions either, and a prosecutor cannot charge you for committing a crime unless police can show there was probable cause for your arrest.

It is not always difficult for police to make a case that they had enough cause to search you or arrest you. For example, they may claim they witnessed you in the act of selling drugs or that they saw a bulge in your coat pocket, so they searched you for their own safety. They may have information from someone else that you participated in a crime. In order to avoid the exclusion of any evidence they collect at this point, police may have to defend their claims of probable cause in court.

When is a warrant unnecessary?

To search your home or vehicle, police often need to convince a judge there is enough cause to grant a warrant. In many cases, however, police do not need a warrant to search you or your home, for example:

  • You are already under arrest for a crime police allegedly witnessed.
  • Police see evidence of a crime in plain sight, for example, a gun in your belt or illegal drugs on the front seat of your vehicle.
  • Circumstances lead police to believe they or the public may be in danger, such as suspicion that an explosive or weapon is in your pocket or vehicle.
  • Police fear that waiting for a warrant may compromise evidence or allow time for someone to destroy evidence.

Police may search you or your personal effects at any time when you grant permission. It is essential that you use caution when speaking with police. You may not realize you have granted permission for police to search you. When you face legal issues in your encounters with police, it is best to remain silent until you consult with an attorney.