What is Probable Cause in an Arizona Criminal Case?

"Probable cause" is a legal concept that determines if an Arizona search warrant can be issued, what police can seize (with or without a search warrant), if an arrest can be made, and other such steps in the criminal arrest process.

The term itself originates from the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment regarding rights during search and seizure:

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.

"Probable cause" can be broken down into 4 general categories:

  • Observation - This includes anything that an officer can detect through the 5 senses, such as smelling illegal drugs or seeing suspicious behavior. 
  • Expertise - This is a general category that includes special police training, such as the ability to read gang signs or identify burglary tools.
  • Information - This includes things like witness accounts or police bulletins.
  • Circumstantial Evidence - This involves information that implies a crime was committed, but does not actually prove it.

Although there are some standards, "probable cause" can be a murky issue, and it's important to know your rights. Many times, "probable cause" is based on observing common criminal behaviors or other subjective information.

If you believe you were arrested or searched illegally in Phoenix, you need the help of an experienced Phoenix criminal defense lawyer who can protect your rights. Call us today at 1-888-929-5292 to schedule a completely free legal consultation. Also, take a look at our FREE book, Arizona Criminal Law - What You Must Know.