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What is Probable Cause in a Florida Criminal Case?


You hear the term “probable cause” in connection with various aspects of criminal law, but you may not fully understand the details unless you have a legal background. The specific mechanics behind this concept are entrenched in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and the Declaration of Rights in the Florida Constitution, both of which address unlawful search and seizure. In short, certain actions by law enforcement are illegal unless officers have probable cause.

Literally thousands of cases in Florida, other US states, and federal courts have hinged on the subject of probable cause over the 230+ years that our criminal judicial system has been in effect. As a result, this area of law is one of the most complex among all legal concepts. You can trust your Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer to handle the specifics, but you should be generally aware of what constitutes probable cause in a Florida criminal case.

Legal Definition of Probable Cause: The general meaning of probable cause involves the presence of circumstances and facts that would lead someone to believe that criminal activity is afoot. The specifics of probable cause depend on who is in the position to determine whether it exists, as both police officers and judges may be in a position to make a determination.

  1. Law Enforcement Officer: Unless they have a warrant issued by a court, police must have a reasonable belief that a criminal offense has been committed AND that YOU are the person who committed it. Reasonableness hinges on the facts and how someone in the same position, with the same information as the officer, would perceive them.
  2. Judge: When police or prosecutors seek a warrant for a person’s arrest, there must be sufficient facts to prove that he or she violated the law. The process involves a hearing where the judge weighs documents, physical evidence, and/or testimony before issuing a warrant supported by probable cause.

Note that probable cause can apply to property as well, if the site was the scene of a crime or may be the location where evidence is located.

Florida Statutes on Probable Cause: Besides state and federal constitutional law, there are multiple statutes that address probable cause. Under the following laws, police may arrest someone even when they do not observe criminal activity or have a warrant:

  • Gun possession laws regarding a person who is the subject of an order of protection against domestic violence or stalking; and,
  • Laws related to a person who is alleged to be in violation of a protective order for domestic violence or sex crimes.

Get More Details from a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

This information about probable cause may be useful as an overview of the basics, but the details are massively complicated when a criminal case touches on civil liberties. To learn more about your rights, please contact attorney Kevin J. Kulik to set up a consultation at our offices. We can advise you once we learn the specifics of your case.





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