Friday, June 24, 2016

Probable Cause and You


    People are always confused about their rights to a hearing whenever they are wrongly arrested. The prompt probable cause review required by constitutional due process is explained by the United States Supreme Court in Gerstein v. Pugh:
...At common law it was customary, if not obligatory, for an arrested person to be brought before a justice of the peace shortly after arrest.  The justice of the peace would examine the prisoner and the witnesses to determine whether there was reason to believe the prisoner had committed a crime.  If there was, the suspect would be committed to jail or bailed pending trial.  If not, he would be discharged from custody  The initial determination of probable cause also could be reviewed by higher courts on a writ of habeas corpus.  This practice furnished the model for criminal procedure in America immediately following the adoption of the Fourth Amendment and there are indications that the framers of the Bill of Rights regarded it as a model for a “reasonable” seizure.

Both the standards and procedures for arrest and detention have been derived from the Fourth Amendment and its common law antecedents.  The standard for arrest is probable cause, defined in terms of facts and circumstances “sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the suspect had committed or was committing an offense.”  This standard, like those for searches and seizures, represents a necessary accommodation between the individual's right to liberty and the state's duty to control crime.

The point of the Fourth Amendment which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence.  Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime.

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