Insights Into How Our Legal System Works

Insights Into How Our Legal System Works

Arrests And Probable Cause

by Yolanda Lane

Due to a recent incident in Baltimore involving a man named Freddie Grey who died shortly after arrest in police custody, questions have been raised about what standard a police officer should meet when detaining or arresting someone. Here is a brief summary of the standards in place and your rights while being detained or arrested.

Arrest and Custody Definition

First, some definition of what constitutes arrest is in order. When a person is under arrest the main criteria is whether they are free to leave or not when stopped by a police officer.  If you are in some doubt when a police officer is talking to you, ask them politely if you are free to leave. If they say no, you are at least under "temporary detention." To legally detain you, an officer needs a "reasonable suspicion" that you have committed an infraction or crime, and the officer should be able to articulate this in court.

To officially arrest and take someone into police custody, officers need to meet a higher standard called "probable cause." In this case, you would be placed in handcuffs or other restraints and are officially in police custody. The Miranda warning is usually recited to you as this is happening, but if police do not plan to question you they may not give it. A trip to the police station or jail for further confinement will likely follow. 

Probable Cause Elements

Probable cause is a phrase used in the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it is the standard that should be used when it comes to lawful search and seizure. (Arrest is considered seizure of one's person.) This standard is considered to be above a hunch or reasonable suspicion and somewhat below the standard needed to convict someone in a court of law.

The U.S. Supreme Court stated in an opinion in Brinegar v. United States (1949) that probable cause required these elements: sufficient, trustworthy facts and circumstances that would lead a person having "reasonable caution" to conclude that a crime was being committed by the suspect.

Your Rights Before and After Arrest

If you were arrested under circumstances that don't meet this test you do have recourse in civil court for false arrest and/or malicious prosecution.  Also, any evidence that was found during an illegal search or arrest may be ruled inadmissible in court. So to protect your safety, you should not resist an arrest, no matter how unfair it may seem at the time.

 Whether you are read a Miranda warning or not, you always have the right to be silent and to wait for legal counsel before answering questions. If you have concerns, contact a local lawyer, like Cross, LaCross, & Murphy PLLC.

In the case of Freddie Grey, mentioned early in this article, the man evidently fled after making eye contact with a police officer. He was pursued, searched, arrested, and died while in custody in a police van en route to a police station. Six of the officers involved in the incident have been charged with felony crimes. As the trials for these police officers are held, this could possibly yield further refinements in citizen's rights and probable cause standards.


About Me

Insights Into How Our Legal System Works

Hello, I'm Christina Miller. Have you ever been fascinated with why the law works the way it does? Ever since I was in junior high, I had an intense interest in anything related to our legal system, whether it be a crime drama on television, a judge show or a legal case covered on the news. I followed it all. As time progressed, I began learning about how the actual legal system worked and not just the fictionalized version of our legal system. This has lead me to start writing my own blog posts about law that I hope will help others.