What Constitutes Probable Cause?
Probable cause is an essential component of our legal system. Before a police officer can pull you over, search your vehicle, or arrest you, they must have probable cause that you have committed a crime. This – probable cause – is the basis of many criminal cases, and it is possible for a criminal case to be thrown out on evidence that was acquired by an officer when conducting a search and seizure without probable cause. The following considers what constitutes probable cause in St. Johns County regarding the search of a vehicle during a traffic stop, and when it is time to contact an attorney.
What Constitutes Probable Cause in a St. Augustine Traffic Stop?
Loosely defined, probable cause is an apparent fact or occurrence that would leave a reasonably prudent person to believe that the accused person has committed a crime. In a traffic stop, probable cause that may give an officer authority to search your vehicle might include:
- Visible alcohol or drug paraphernalia, i.e. an open bottle of liquor in the front seat that can be seen by the naked eye;
- The accused person’s reckless or dangerous operation of a vehicle, leading the officer to believe the person is impaired;
- Breath or blood testing that indicates impairment;
- Slurred speech and lack of dexterity; and
- A combination of other critical factors, such as a strong smell of alcohol odor, poor performance on field sobriety tests, etc.
You should know that an officer will likely ask you if they may search your vehicle before they commence a search. This is especially true if the officer does not have probable cause. At this point, you have the right to say “no.” However, if the officer has probable cause – or reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime – to search your vehicle, they may proceed.
What Do You Have to Tell a Police Officer During a Traffic Stop?
When you are pulled over for a traffic stop, it is important that you cooperate with the officer. Some things that you are required to do include:
- Identify yourself, which is typically done by providing your driver’s license; and
- Provide the officer with your vehicle registration and insurance information.
However, you are not required to comply with an officer’s request to search your vehicle, or to test your blood alcohol content (BAC). While refusal of the latter may have legal consequences, including license revocation, it may also have benefits, particularly if you know very well that you are intoxicated beyond the legal limit.
When It’s Time to Contact a St. Augustine Criminal Defense Attorney
If you believe that your rights during a traffic stop were violated, and that your vehicle was searched without probable cause, resulting in the discovery of incriminating evidence, you will need to hire an attorney. If your fourth amendment rights were violated, an attorney may be able to have the evidence against you thrown out, and the charges against you dropped. At the Albaugh Law Firm, our experienced St. Augustine criminal defense attorneys will work hard to protect your rights and your freedom. We have offices conveniently located in St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Contact us at 904-471-3434 for a free consultation today.