If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey, there are some key legal principles that may significantly influence the outcome of your case, one of which is probable cause. “Probable cause” is a legal term that is often used in the context of search and seizure laws in New Jersey. Generally, police must have probable cause to initiate actions against you that would otherwise violate your constitutional rights—which means that it is essential to know and understand what the term means to protect your rights. At our criminal defense law firm, our experienced criminal defense lawyers aggressively challenge probable cause for unlawful searches that result in criminal charges against our clients. In this article, we explain the concept of probable cause and why it matters if you have been charged with drugs, weapons, or another crime after a search in New Jersey. For a free consultation about your case, contact our office at 609-832-3202 or contact us online today.
Burlington County NJ Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Probable Cause
The definition of probable cause is much more fluid than you might think. The law has attempted to keep the term flexible so that it can apply to a variety of situations. Nonetheless, it is still meant to be practical and based in common sense so the average person can understand when an officer may have probable cause.
Essentially, the term means that an officer has reason to believe that you are doing something illegal. The reason that they may think that criminal activity is taking or has taken place will vary, but once there is probable cause, an officer would be able to conduct a search or detain you. If the officer did not truly think you had committed a crime or that the search would result in evidence of a crime, they cannot lawfully conduct a search of your person or property.
Probable cause comes into play when:
- An officer is going to make an arrest
- You are about to be pulled over while driving
- You are stopped on the street and searched
- Your vehicle is searched after a stop
- Police want to search your home
If the police do not have probable cause to take action, any evidence that they obtain because of that action can be disregarded or thrown out at trial. That means that it cannot be used against you in a criminal proceeding.
Examples of Probable Cause in New Jersey Criminal Cases
Perhaps the best way to explain probable cause is to set out a typical example. Imagine a pull-over situation from the perspective of a police officer. The officer has a speed gun set up and clocks you driving 57 miles per hour in a 45-mile zone. Because he knows you were speeding, he has probable cause to pull you over. Then, when he comes over to speak to you about the incident, he smells marijuana in the vehicle. The smell alone constitutes probable cause to search your car to look for illegal substances. Had the officer stopped you and searched your vehicle without knowledge of your speeding or the marijuana smell, he would not have probable cause, and the marijuana he found would not be admissible evidence at trial.
Keep in mind that your consent often “trumps” probable cause. That is, if you consent to a search, the police do not have to have probable cause for the search. Your consent makes probable cause virtually irrelevant.
Generally speaking, the police cannot stop you or detain you unless they have reason to do so. They cannot stop your vehicle unless they think you have violated a law. Some exceptions apply to this general rule, especially with regard to police doing investigations, including sobriety checkpoints. If police follow procedure for setting up a DWI checkpoint under New Jersey law, you can legally be charged with DWI at a sobriety checkpoint and probable cause for a motor vehicle stop is unnecessary.
Mount Holly NJ Probable Cause Criminal Defense Attorney
Whether an officer has probable cause is an extremely important part of criminal law and procedure. If police could simply act without probable cause, then there would be very little to protect your constitutional rights to privacy and to be secure in your person and property. If you have been arrested for a crime, it is imperative to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer examining your case to see if police lacked probable cause. The attorneys at our firm have been defending clients facing criminal charges in Burlington County, Gloucester County, Camden County, and throughout Southern New Jersey for years and we know how to find constitutional violations that pave the way for a dismissal. Contact us at 609-832-3202 anytime for a free case evaluation from a knowledgeable attorney.