What Is “Probable Cause” In A Texas Drug Crime Case?
“Probable cause” is a term that can be so loosely defined that it is hard for public citizens to know what actually constitutes probable cause for the purposes of a search or arrest.
The notion of probable cause was embedded in the U.S. Constitution as a protective boundary for citizens against overreach by government and law enforcement officials. In pre-Revolutionary times, citizens of the U.S. colonies grew accustomed to unexpected and unwarranted searches by British officials, followed up by trials light on evidence and heavy on arbitrary punishments.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was designed to prevent searches and seizures unless they are supported by facts and “probable cause”. Probable cause means that circumstances and specific facts must exist to permit a reasonable person to believe that it’s more probable than not that the suspect committed a crime, or is about to commit a crime. To obtain a search warrant, officers must show probable cause that the location in question is likely to hold evidence of a specified crime.
Importantly, an officer’s decision to arrest someone or make a search incident to the arrest cannot be based on a “hunch”, or an assumption that the person involved may have been doing something illegal, like holding drugs. There must be something more to support an arrest or search & seizure. Unfortunately, this is sometimes a “gray area” that even highly experienced officers may stumble into problems with.
After an arrest, to bring criminal charges, a prosecutor must also have probable cause to file the charges and proceed with the case. Defendants are entitled to a probable cause hearing shortly after their arraignment to determine whether probable cause exists to move forward with the case – otherwise charges can be dismissed.
Probable Cause in Drug Crime Cases
In the context of a drug crime case, law enforcement officers and prosecutors follow the Texas Controlled Substances Act and its numerous provisions. For Texas law enforcement officers to make an arrest or search a vehicle for controlled substances, they must have probable cause to do so. While Texas law does not define exactly what probable cause is under these circumstances, they must reasonably believe that the person has committed – or is committing – a drug crime punishable under the Texas Penal Code. For instance, if a vehicle matches the description given for a drug delivery vehicle, or the driver matches the description of a known drug dealer, they may have probable cause to pull that person over and take further steps including arrest. However, a person can’t be apprehended simply because they look like they might be carrying drugs. If so, it is possible that their arrest and any evidence seized could be thrown out in court at a later date.
Probable cause is a difficult concept because of the vagueness that comes into play. An officer needs more than a “hunch”, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This can create situations where an officer is doing what they believe is correct, but their actions ultimately fall short of the probable cause standard. In many cases as well, prosecutors will file a charge but be unable to sustain it beyond a probable cause hearing.
In any case, a defendant has important legal rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights. If you have been arrested or charged with any type of drug crime, from possession to sales, the circumstances of your arrest and the seizure of any evidence must be carefully examined. Preferably, you will have the assistance of an experienced Pearland criminal defense attorney to assert your rights.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Will Fight For Your Legal Rights When Probable Cause Issues Arise
“Probable cause” is an important but problematic issue. Officers and prosecutors may overstep their bounds in this regard, even if their intentions were fair. If there is any doubt whatsoever, you need a skilled criminal defense attorney to analyze your case and put your best foot forward. At Keith B. French Law, we will review your case and defend your Constitutional rights. Contact us today for help.