Requirements For Probable Cause In Missouri

Probable Cause Criminal Defense

Probable Cause In Missouri

In criminal law, probable cause is defined as the legal standard by which law enforcement officers have reasonable grounds to believe that a particular individual has committed a crime or is going to commit a crime, especially to justify making an arrest, obtaining an arrest warrant, conducting personal or property search, seizing property relating to a suspected crime, or preferring criminal charges. Missouri laws obligate police officers to have valid reasons to undertake the aforementioned law enforcement duties.

Probable Cause For a Search

Probable cause to search exists when a police officer has valid reasons based on facts and circumstances that provide a reasonable basis to believe that criminal activity was committed at the place to be searched, or there is evidence relating to the crime at the location.  However, there are particular circumstances whereby a search warrant is not required to conduct a search.  Such situations include when the officer has the consent of a person to conduct a search, and in emergency cases where public safety is at risk. The law also allows officers to search a vehicle in certain situations without a warrant but with probable cause. The officer must detect something real before searching the car. An example of probable cause that may prompt an officer to search a car is the smell or sight of illegal drugs.  Minor traffic violations are not considered probable cause.

Probable Cause For An Arrest

Probable cause to arrest exists when a police officer has valid reasons based on facts and circumstances that would reasonably indicate that a person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime. Missouri laws provide that probable cause must be based on specific facts and circumstances as opposed to mere suspicion.  However, temporary detentions at car stops can be based on reasonable suspicion and may not require probable cause.

Probable Cause For To Seize Property

Probable cause to seize property is met when facts and circumstances before a police officer reasonably indicate that the item or property seized or to be seized is contraband, stolen or forms part of evidence of a crime.  

Warrant Requirement

In Missouri, a police officer obtains a warrant by signing an affidavit detailing facts and circumstances that would  form a reasonable basis to conduct a search, arrest a suspect or seize property. Judges examine the affidavits and issue warrants if they are convinced that adequate cause exists. 

Establishing Probable Cause

A police officer can establish probable cause in various ways. First,  they can use their expertise to detect  gestures or tools that may exhibit a possibility criminal activity. Secondly, an officer can meet probable cause by simply observing and examining information gathered from victims, witnesses and informants.

Thirdly, circumstantial evidence which is considered indirect evidence can be relied upon to establish probable cause.  Such evidence indicates that a crime might have been committed but does not directly prove it. The facts or evidence relating to the suspected action or event can be used to reasonably determine  if a criminal activity is more or less probable.

Fourth, law enforcement officers can rely on their senses to determine probable cause for search, arrest or seize of property. If an officer notices evidence of criminal activity through smell, sight, or hearing, he or she has probable cause to take the appropriate action. For instance, if a police officer detects the smell of marijuana or any other drugs coming from a car, he or she can proceed to conduct a search without a warrant.   

Lastly, a suspected person can voluntarily give consent to the law enforcement officer to conduct a search. In such a situation, probable cause has been automatically met and a search warrant is not required.

Overall, probable cause is a requirement before a  search or arrest warrant is issued. Warrantless searches and arrests in Missouri must as well meet the standard of probable cause to be considered lawful.

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