America’s criminal laws and criminal justice system are built on principles that protect the rights of individuals, suspects, and defendants. These include rights pertaining to how law enforcement officers can stop, search, and arrest a person to be charged with a criminal offense.
As part of the comprehensive representation we provide to individuals who have been charged with crimes across Volusia County and the surrounding areas of South Florida, our legal team at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. devotes considerable time and energy into investigating the conduct of law enforcement officers who stopped you, questioned you, searched your property, and arrested you. This is because we want to ensure police abided by applicable rules and procedures, and that they did not violate your rights. If they did, it could make the difference in your case and defense.
Arresting Protocol: What Officers Need to Have
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides you with protections from unreasonable contact with law enforcement officers, including protection from unlawful searches and seizures. This can include unlawful searches of your property or person, and unlawful seizure of your property or person (or simply an arrest). To ensure those rights are not violated, law enforcement officers must abide by rules and procedures when stopping suspects and making arrests.
For example, in order to make an arrest, any of the following must apply:
- A law enforcement officer has a valid warrant;
- A law enforcement officer personally witnessed you committing a crime; or
- A law enforcement officer has probable cause.
What this means is that law enforcement officers do not always need to have a warrant when making an arrest. In fact, aside from warrants issued by a court (such as when a defendant fails to appear), many arrests are made without warrants, or on the basis of probable cause. Still, certain elements must be in place to ensure those arrests were lawful. These include:
- An officer saw you commit a crime – If a law enforcement officer personally witnesses you committing a crime, they have the ability to arrest you, even if they do not have a warrant. This is because they have first-hand evidence to associate you with a criminal offense.
- An officer has probable cause – Law enforcement officers must have probable cause to make an arrest if they do not have a warrant or did not personally witness you committing a crime. Because officers typically respond to calls or deal with suspects after a crime has already been committed, many arrests are based on probable cause. This means officers must have a justifiable reason – through facts or evidence – that would lead a reasonable person to believe a suspect has committed a crime.
While there are many ways officers can meet the standard of establishing probable cause in various cases, common examples include seeing or smelling contraband (or alcohol) in plain view. This would allow an officer to conduct a search, secure further evidence to bolster probable cause that a suspect is connected to a crime, and / or make an arrest.
What Probable Cause May Mean in Your Case
If law enforcement officers conducted a search or made an arrest without probable cause, your rights were violated. When this happens to our clients, we look to illustrate how officers did not have probable cause, which can result in key pieces of evidence obtained through unlawful searches and seizures being suppressed – or thrown out – as evidence in court. In many cases, particularly when prosecutors do not have other evidence against a defendant, this can result in cases being dismissed.
As former prosecutors, we know the standards law enforcement officers must abide by when stopping, searching, and arresting suspects – as well as how to effectively raise challenges when they fail to meet those standards. If you have questions about an unlawful search or arrest, or wish to discuss your case, contact our firm for a FREE consultation.