When Do Police Have Probable Cause in New Jersey?

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probable cause new jersey

In the Garden State and elsewhere in the United States, probable cause is the key issue in the arrest process. The police need probable cause to make an arrest or obtain an arrest warrant from a judge. But what is probable cause and when do police have it in New Jersey? For more information on this subject, please continue reading, then contact an experienced Mercer County criminal defense lawyer today.

What constitutes probable cause in New Jersey?

To establish probable cause, police officers must have the ability to point to objective circumstances leading them to believe that a suspect committed a crime. A police officer can’t establish probable cause by claiming intuition or “hunches.” That said, judges, not law enforcement, have the final say on whether or not probable cause exists. In spite of a police officer’s sincerity, the judge may examine that same information and disagree, thus deciding that probable cause does or did not exist.

Please keep in mind that probable cause may have existed at the time of an arrest even if the defendant didn’t actually violate the law. You see, an arrest is valid so long as officers predicate it on probable cause, even if the arrested person is innocent.

How much information do police need for probable cause in New Jersey?

Probable cause is an abstract concept, meaning that a firm definition will forever remain elusive. Courts have to determine case by case whether or not the police had probable cause for an arrest. In general, though, probable cause requires more than mere suspicion that a suspect committed a crime, but not as much information as one would need to prove the suspect guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

What are some examples of probable causes?

Given the broad definition of probable cause, law enforcement may make use of any or all of the following when justifying an arrest:

  • Observation using the senses to detect signs of criminal activity: Pulling someone over for driving recklessly and finding empty alcohol containers on the front passenger seat.
  • Using an expert to recognize when an individual has committed a crime: A drug-sniffing dog identifies a subject who, upon inspection, is carrying illicit drugs.
  • Obtaining information on possible criminal activity from an informant: A person with a reasonable expectation of knowing something relates his or her information to the police.
  • Viewing circumstantial, or indirect, events that suggest criminal activity: Police observed and detained an individual seen fleeing from a crime scene.

As you may have noticed, these examples are much more subjective than the average person might think. What if a dog alerts to someone who, upon inspection, isn’t in possession of an illegal substance? What if the informant has some motive for lying or targeting a specific individual? What if the individual fleeing the crime scene was only trying to get to safety? A skilled criminal defense lawyer will raise these and other questions in your defense.


If you face a criminal matter, contact The Law Office of Douglas Herring to schedule your initial consultation.

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