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What is probable cause?


As a citizen of Virginia, you have a right to live your life without undue interference from law enforcement. At the same time, police officers have a job to do in terms of preventing crimes and ensuring that the law is upheld.

Occasionally, this can be a difficult balance to strike. Under what circumstances can the police justify an arrest through probable cause?

Defining probable cause

A police officer may have a hunch that you have committed a crime, and their colleague has helped to confirm this. Because of the nature of their work, suspicion is often the default position of law enforcement. However, a mere hunch is not enough to establish probable cause. There must be more than this.

Probable cause: An example

Law enforcement has heard over the radio about a robbery that has taken place at a local hardware store. A description of the perpetrator has been passed on over the radio, and it just so happens you fit closely with this description. You’ve also just purchased some new tools, as you intend to carry out some home improvements when you get back.

Suddenly, you notice flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror. The police have pulled you over on suspicion of going over the speed limit. They notice that you match the description passed over the radio. Not only that, they see a bunch of brand-new tools on the rear seat of your vehicle. While they are mistaken, and you did not commit the robbery, this could amount to enough evidence to satisfy the requirements for probable cause.

If you have been accused of a criminal offense then it’s vital to protect yourself. Having legal guidance on your side will help to assert your rights in this difficult situation.

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