Determining whether Probable Cause Exists in your Case

In Colorado, the law states that a police officer, or other law enforcement officer, may arrest someone in only three different situations:

  • When there is a warrant commanding that such person be arrested;
  • When that law enforcement officer views or otherwise observes a crime being committed; or
  • When he or she has probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and has probable cause to believe that the offense was committed by the person to be arrested.
    C.R.S. 16-3-102

Probable cause is a nebulous concept – it is a term that is tough to define. The United States Supreme Court discussed probable cause in an 1878 case – Stacey v. Emery, 97 U.S. 642 (1978). In that case, the Court told us that probable cause exists if the facts and circumstances before the officer are such as to warrant a man of prudence and caution in believing that the offense has been committed.’

Being that probable cause is a standard that, generally, must be met before an officer may arrest someone, the attorneys at the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez like to think of probable cause as a limit, or restraint, on the government.

Courts across our country, including in Colorado, continue to struggle with probable cause. Arguing that there was insufficient probable cause in any given case is a common defense.

Courts loathe to associate probable cause with a discrete numerical probability and that makes it even more difficult to know when it does or does not exist.

What we do know is that probable cause is a higher bar than a ‘reasonable suspicion.’ Reasonable suspicion is a minimal standard required for law enforcement to make contact with you – case law has determined that a firm belief, more than a mere hunch, is sufficient for an officer to make contact.

We also know that in some situations, like domestic violence cases, if a law enforcement officer determines that there is probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence has been committed then that law enforcement officer must make an arrest. For more information on Colorado’s domestic violence laws, please click here.

Probable cause is also the standard upon which the DMV evaluates whether or not it can take your license. For more information on DMV procedures, please click here.

Further, once someone is cited, charged, or arrested for an offense, the Court must determine whether there was probable cause to issue that citation or charge. This determination would be made at a preliminary hearing if you are eligible. For more information on preliminary hearings, please click here.

If someone is arrested, and it is later shown that the arresting officer did not have probable cause at the time of arrest, then oftentimes, some of the ‘evidence’ that law enforcement discovered may be ‘suppressed by the court’ – which means it will not be used against you.  Even more impactful, lack of probable cause can also lead to a Judge dismissing your case.

Whether you’re charged with DUI, theft, domestic violence, or a different charge, having an attorney who understands the 4th amendment can make all the difference in your case. Defenses that suggest that there was insufficient probable cause can break a case. Contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Jacob E. Martinez to set up a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys.