Search and Seizure, Probable Cause Laws and Guidelines

Following is an overview of probable cause and search and seizure laws and guidelines.

Probable Cause: Reasonable Justification for Legal Arrests, Searches and Warrants

What is Probable Cause?

In the United States criminal justice system, probable cause refers to the standard by which a police officer has the right to make an arrest, conduct a personal search or property search, or to obtain an arrest warrant. A police officer or other law enforcement official must have probable cause to arrest someone in a legal fashion.

Probable cause is also used to refer to the standard to which a grand jury believes that a crime has been committed. This term comes from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states the following:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Private detectives and police officers should clearly understand probable cause to ensure they are always operating within the guidelines of the law. In a court of law, evidence can be dismissed and entire cases can be dismissed based on whether cops had the appropriate authority to conduct a search or obtain a warrant to make an arrest.

Search and Seizure Laws and Guidelines

What is Search and Seizure?

Search and seizure is a legal procedure whereby a police officer, law enforcement official, or other government authorities and their agents, who suspect that a crime has been committed, can perform a full visual and physical search of a person’s property and confiscate any relevant evidence to the crime.

Most countries have provisions in their constitutions that provide the public with the right to be free from “unreasonable” search and seizure. This right is generally based on the premise that everyone is entitled to a reasonable right to privacy.

This interpretation may vary, this right usually requires law enforcement to obtain a legal search warrant from a judge before engaging in any form of search and seizure.

More Information

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.


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