Probable cause is an important concept to understand if you’re facing criminal charges in Colorado. Broadly speaking, police cannot search you or your property for evidence or arrest you without reasonable grounds for doing so. Accordingly, if you can show that police or prosecutors did not have these reasonable grounds to do so, you will have demonstrated that your Constitutional rights were violated and that any evidence they obtained this way may be inadmissible.
At Patterson Weaver Law, LLC, our Colorado Springs criminal defense attorneys are committed to protecting our clients’ Constitutionally guaranteed rights. Our founding attorney, Patterson Weaver, is a former criminal prosecutor who has inside knowledge about how the state will build its case and how prosecuting attorneys think. That gives him an edge during negotiations and at trial.
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What Is Probable Cause?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures except when they are made “upon probable cause.” Essentially, this means that police are Constitutionally required to show that there are circumstances, observations, or evidence that would cause a reasonably prudent person to believe that someone has committed a crime or is in the middle of committing a crime before they can search or arrest that person.
Generally speaking, police either need to observe criminal activity directly or witness evidence of criminal activity to meet the threshold for probable cause. If police witness criminal activity directly, they can make an arrest. If there is not sufficient evidence for immediate arrest, police can submit their evidence to a judge and obtain a warrant, allowing the police to conduct a more thorough search. It is up to the judge to review the evidence and police affidavits to determine if the threshold for probable cause has been met.
What Is Reasonable Suspicion and What Is the Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?
While police in Colorado generally need probable cause to make a search or arrest, they only need reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop. Reasonable suspicion can be broadly defined as a police officer having specific facts they can articulate showing that a crime has occurred or is about to occur.
Reasonable suspicion does not rise to the level of probable cause, though an officer with reasonable suspicion that a crime is in progress can briefly detain a suspect and look for additional evidence. If they find additional evidence to support their suspicion, the officer may have probable cause to obtain a search warrant or make an arrest. As with probable cause, the vagueness of the term leaves it open to interpretation, which can be a source of frustration for those facing criminal charges.
Can a Police Officer Search Your Belongings with Probable Cause?
While police are generally supposed to obtain a warrant before searching your belongings, there are certain circumstances where cause can be enough to justify a search even without a warrant. For example, if an officer has reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop and then sees you trying to hide something under your seat, they may conduct a probable cause search to locate the item you hid. probable. Also, if you consent to a search of your belongings, your car, or your home, police do not need probable cause or a warrant.
CO Rights When Searched by Police
Your rights if police have probable cause to conduct a search depend on a variety of factors. If you have been lawfully arrested, police have the right to conduct a search “incident to arrest” and pat you down for weapons, drugs, or other evidence of a crime. In a traffic stop, police may be able to search your vehicle with probable cause or after you have been arrested. If the police show up at your house with a search warrant, you generally have to comply with a search.
That said, there are still limits on what police can do in a search. You have important rights you should be aware of. First, a warrant usually requires police to limit their search to specific areas of your home or to specific types of evidence. Second, you have the right to see a warrant or have it read to you before you comply with it. Third, you have the right to stay silent and ask for a lawyer if the search leads to an arrest. Remember, anything you say to the police can be used as evidence against you. Your best course of action is to say nothing and exercise your Constitutional right to legal counsel.
Probable Cause Examples
Here are a few examples of how probable cause works in Colorado criminal cases:
- Searching your car – A police officer records you speeding or committing another traffic violation. This would be reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop. If the officer can see drugs, weapons, or other evidence of a crime in plain view during the traffic stop, that would likely be probable cause for arrest.
- Searching your house – A police officer driving by your house hears people shouting and the sound of gunshots. This could be evidence of assault or other criminal activity, and the police officer may have exigent circumstances to enter the home to protect the health of victims inside.
- Making an arrest – A police officer walking on the street hears and sees you threatening someone else physically. That is concrete evidence of a crime (assault, specifically) and would likely be considered probable evidence for an arrest.
When Do Police Need a Search Warrant?
Generally speaking, police need a warrant to conduct a search of your home or other private spaces, including your vehicle, in some circumstances. However, there are numerous exceptions that allow police to conduct a search without a warrant. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can review the circumstances of your case and explain whether police have violated your rights.
Challenging Probable Cause
Challenging probable cause can be an effective way to have criminal charges dismissed in Colorado or to have damaging evidence against you declared inadmissible. If you can show the police did not have probable cause to conduct a search, any evidence obtained through that search may have to be thrown out. Without enough evidence to justify an arrest or convict you at trial, the prosecution may be forced to drop the charges against you.
Under certain circumstances, you might also be able to file a lawsuit against the police department for false imprisonment. A skilled criminal defense attorney who understands the legal complexities of probable cause can help you argue that police did not have sufficient evidence to conduct a search.
Contact Patterson Weaver Law today
Police might try to violate your Constitutional rights to make an arrest, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer can fight back against their abuses on the grounds that they did not have probable cause. If you have been arrested in Colorado, contact Patterson Weaver Law, LLC today to schedule a free consultation.