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Definition of probable (probably?) cause....

Discussion in 'Cop Talk' started by rockapede, Oct 25, 2012.

  1. rockapede


    Sep 3, 2009
    So, minor rant. I had a local academy student riding with me the other day who's interested in applying at my agency. He informed me he was taught that probable cause meant that it was "more likely than not" that a crime was/is being committed by a given suspect.

    I proceeded to tell him that "more likely than not" was the definition of preponderance of the evidence, which is, obviously, a higher, quantified burden of proof. I further added that the vast majority of my arrests are really based on evidence MUCH closer to meeting the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think he believed me, which is frustrating. I know this is a common misconception, even among police officers, but stuff like this drives me nuts. Obviously, local courts and prosecutors might have more restrictive requirements, but why voluntarily give up investigative authority to misinformation?

    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012
  2. 11A


    Nov 28, 2011
    That is actually how it was described in our academy as well.

    Preponderance of Evidence was explained as a 51% chance that someone did what they were alleged to have done, but it only applied in civil cases.

    Probable Cause was explained the same way, although it applied to a criminal case.

    In reality (at least in the very short time that I've been on the street), our prosecutors want as arrest that is close to Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

  3. rockapede


    Sep 3, 2009
    It drives me nuts that academies teach this. Legal standards of proof are legal standards of proof regardless of which courtroom they're used in. The difference is just in which standard is required. PC is nebulous, but it's less than the preponderance of the evidence.

    Our prosecutors don't really give a rats behind how I make my arrests so long as they're legal and the case is closer to beyond a shadow of a doubt by the time it hits their desk. God forbid they have to do anything.
  4. msu_grad_121

    msu_grad_121 BOOSH

    Sep 16, 2009
    NW Burbs
    Probable Cause:

    "When facts and circumstances within the arresting officers' knowledge would lead a reasonably intelligent person to conclude that a crime has been committed, or is about to be committed, and that the person to be arrested committed the crime."

    To me, that sounds awfully like what the cadet regurgitated, but that's just how I read it. Further to that, I read it as the main difference between PC and RS is the presence of a known suspect and a more specific knowledge of the crime alleged to have been committed. Again, though, that's just how I read it. YMMV
  5. golls17

    golls17 Lifetime Newbie

    Feb 3, 2009
    "The quantum of evidence which would lead a reasonable officer to suspect a crime has been or is being committed" or something to that effect was what I was taught.

    I remember it vividly because the instructor said it's the only time you're allowed to use the term "quantum" without getting a wedgie...
  6. lawman800

    lawman800 Juris Glocktor

    Probably cause is just that... it probably happened or will happen and you can articulate it. It should be pretty close to preponderance but that is a different term used in a different forum, which is a legal standard for making judgments and rendering verdicts in a civil court.
  7. rockapede


    Sep 3, 2009
    I understand preponderance of the evidence is used in civil court, however, it is still a quantified legal standard of proof just like beyond a reasonable doubt and still very much applicable in a discussion about standards of proof. My point was only that probable cause is not and can't defined as "more likely than not" because it doesn't fit that nice, neat definition. The USSC has held for while (Maryland v. Pringle) that the "probable-cause standard is incapable of precise definition or quantification into percentages because it deals with probabilities and depends on the totality of the circumstances. See ibid.; Brinegar, 338 U. S., at 175. We have stated, however, that "[t]he substance of all the definitions of probable cause is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt," ibid. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), and that the belief of guilt must be particularized with respect to the person to be searched or seized, Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U. S. 85, 91 (1979)."

    Basically, Maryland v. Pringle discussed whether PC existed to arrest all three occupants of a car when dope was found behind a rear armrest. USSC held that it did. Did the facts and circumstances make it "more likely than not" that all three people knew about the cocaine? Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn't matter as that's not necessary. Heck, depending on how you look at it you might call that a 1/3 chance, but fact is the percentage is irrelevant. Maybe it's all semantics, but it irritates me to hear that "more likely than not" is being presented by academies as the definition when it isn't.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012
  8. series1811

    series1811 Enforcerator. CLM

    I remember back in the days of my first academy, having to straighten the old timers out on law and procedure. :supergrin:

    :shocked::shocked: There is something really, really, wrong with today's youth.
  9. Bren

    Bren NRA Life Member

    Jan 16, 2005
    Probable cause is far below a preponderance, that's for sure.

    Pasted from the slide show I made for teaching it:

    I illustrate the legal standards with this:

    Probable cause is a little stronger than reasonable suspicion which is, in turn, a little stronger than "a mere hunch."
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012
  10. Bren

    Bren NRA Life Member

    Jan 16, 2005
    That is just plain wrong and, at best, might be supported by some incorrect state court decisions somewhere.
  11. SKSman57


    Nov 13, 2008
    I'll give you the "dog poop" example that they give in the bar prep materials.

    Suppose you are a police officer on routine patrol in your city. It's a warm summer day about 80 degrees. Your city has an ordinance that requires that individuals use a pooper scooper and pick up the waste that their dogs leave behind them.

    You see a person walking carrying one of those little rat dogs that I hate so much. He does not have a pooper scooper with him, or any of those little bags that are used to pick up the dog waste.

    You look behind the man, and about 15 feet behind you see some dog waste on the ground.

    Based on those facts, you have reasonable articulable suspicion that the person is engaged in criminal activity. Sure, the dog waste could be old. Sure the dog waste could have been left by the other dog. Sure the person can be entirely innocent, but you still have specific identifiable facts that you can point to justify the individualized reasonable suspicion of a crime.

    Now, let's change those facts again. This time, you are on patrol, and rather than it being in the middle of the summer, it is now the middle of the winder, and a bone chilling 30 degrees outside. You see the man walking carrying the little rat dog, and he does not have with him any pooper scooper or waste bags. You look behind him about 15 feet and you see dog waste on the ground, with steam coming off of it.

    Now you have probable cause.
  12. DaBigBR

    DaBigBR No Infidels!

    Oct 28, 2005
    Circling the wagons.
    The preponderance of the evidence standard does have applicability in court in certain evidentiary hearings.
  13. rockapede


    Sep 3, 2009
    I did not know that. Learn something new every day.
  14. Excellent example.

    And it's a crime in our city not to clean up after your dog in public places. Haven't seen it enforced, yet. :) Wait, there was one time when the K9 left a steaming pile in the middle of the floor of the detective's office . . .
  15. The key is, "Reasonable reasonable person" standard. Then we can all argue what "reasonable" means. :rofl:
  16. Kingarthurhk

    Kingarthurhk Isaiah 53:4-9

    Sep 5, 2010
    What it boils down to, is can you articulate it?
  17. Probable Cause:

    Probable Cause for an arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge are sufficient to permit a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, to conclude there is a fair probability that a criminal offense is being or has been committed, and the suspect is or was a criminal participant- Illinois v. Gates (1983)

    It has been described as a "well-grounded suspicion or belief and a practical, non-technical probability- State v. Dangerfield (2002- NJ), Schneider v. Simonini (2000- NJ)
  18. msu_grad_121

    msu_grad_121 BOOSH

    Sep 16, 2009
    NW Burbs
    That whole "common sense ain't that common" thing, huh? :rofl:
  19. Redfire SVT

    Redfire SVT

    May 28, 2011
    "Facts or circumstances which would make a reasonable or prudent person believe a crime is being or has been committed" - what I learned last week for probable cause.

    My instructor drew a line from 0% to 100% as far as evidence goes. 100% being you know everything, 0% nothing. He charted PC at the 40ish area, 51 for PoE, 90 for beyond a reasonable doubt, and ARS at 20-30.

    Sound on par with everyone's thoughts?