The U.S. Constitution was written at a very different time. However, we still rely on the rights and protections granted by it to define legal interactions between law enforcement and U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike.
The Fourth Amendment is the basis for many of these protections. That’s where “probable cause” is mentioned. Law enforcement must have probable cause to take a number of actions, like stopping someone (in a car or on foot), searching them, seizing property and arresting them. These things can’t just be done on a whim.
It’s crucial to know your rights. If they’re violated at any point and you’re arrested and charged with a crime as a result, you may be able to have evidence tossed out or the case dropped completely.
Search and seizure
The Fourth Amendment protects people from “unreasonable” searches and seizures. There are strict requirements for searches (of people or property) and seizures of items. Usually, they require either the person’s permission or a warrant. To get a warrant, law enforcement must provide a judge with probable cause involving criminal activity.
There are some exceptions. For example, if police think someone is in imminent danger or evidence is being destroyed, they can enter a property without a warrant or permission. There are other exceptions, such as when an officer has witnessed a crime, when evidence is in “plain view” in an area where law enforcement has a right to be or when there’s a threat to public safety.
Detainment and arrest
Police don’t need probable cause to temporarily detain someone for questioning. However, people aren’t required to answer questions without an attorney present (beyond basic information like their name). However, an officer needs probable cause that someone has engaged in criminal activity to place them under arrest.
You can exert your rights firmly but respectfully to law enforcement officers. Nonetheless, don’t fight them, even if you’re sure they’re in the wrong. That typically doesn’t end well. Too often, it ends tragically.
It’s better to remember as many details as possible of the events before and during your arrest and share them with your attorney once you have legal guidance – which you have a right to before any interrogation takes place. This is the best way to prevent a violation of your rights from costing you your freedom.