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5 ways to establish probable cause

Police can't make an arrest without probable cause. They cannot simply arrest a private citizen for no reason and then begin digging into his or her background, looking for a crime that justifies it.

In the United States, we often take this principle for granted, but do you really know how police decide they have probable cause? Below are five ways it can be obtained:

1. The police obtain factual evidence that a crime has occurred. This could be video footage of the crime happening, for example.

2. Police can look for patterns of suspicious behavior. If they are on a stakeout and see a driver flashing his headlights, for instance, that observation could lead them to believe criminal activity is taking place.

3. Police can use their own specific expertise. For example, an officer who works with gangs may recognize certain gang signs at a specific location and deduce that the gang is active there, even though other officers may not have recognized those same signs.

4. Witnesses, informants and victims can provide testimonies that set up probable cause.

5. Circumstantial evidence can be used when it suggests that a crime already happened. For instance, police could arrive at a home, find that a window has been broken out and determine that a robbery may be underway.

If you were arrested for any crime, it's very important to know if the police followed all of the proper steps in making that arrest. This often starts with probable cause. Be sure you know all about your legal defense options either way.

Source: FindLaw, "When is an Arrest a Legal Arrest?," accessed Aug. 31, 2017

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