Probable Cause Article Summary

Probable Cause Article Summary

It can be argued with a reasonable degree of certainty that the rule of law surrounding the interpretation of actions by officers supporting probable cause and how effective the tactics are in lieu of criminal procedure are important in convicting criminals who break the law. Over the years much debates has surrounded the applicability of warrantless searches, warrantless search exceptions and what some human rights groups have argued blatantly disregard individual citizens right to guarantees outlined in the U.S. Constitution. This report will summarize an article from that explores the reasons why warrantless searches are sometimes complicated by court ruling. The method of a warrantless search exception and how it became procedural law will also be revealed and summarized.

The Article: Understanding Probable Cause
The issues addressed within the article published at provides a detailed example of how officers understanding of the rules of law regarding warrantless searches are important to criminal procedure and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The main premise of the article focuses on how the importance of officers knowing what does and does not constitute probable cause for any given situation. (Rutledge, 2010) DeVallis Rutledge asserts “there is widespread misunderstanding as to the meaning of the term, there's also a deeply entrenched practice among many law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges of wrongly applying the probable-cause standard where it doesn't belong.” (Rutledge, 2010) The author reveals various methods of performing searches can be confusing because of the fine line it walk in regard to the provision in the Fourth Amendment’s rule protecting a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and it specifies that "no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." (Rutledge, 2010) The author goes on to explore how the confusion surrounding the rule is further complicated by language making unreasonable searches and seizures a constitutional requirement because, as he puts it, “ the Constitution does not define "probable cause" or give any examples of what does or does not constitute probable cause.” (2010)

Historically, there have been many documented studies surrounding the language in the Constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure. Additionally, as Rutledge, asserted in his article the issue of probable cause is the most perplexing. It can be argued that the confusion surrounding what creates probable cause is often subjected to legal challenge by judges, lawyers, and human rights groups. The mere fact that the final decision of a law enforcement claim of what he or she thought prompted probable cause could be ruled unreasonable or illegal because it violated someone’s guarantees of individual rights. Rutledge goes on the defensive in the article noting the complexity is often created by the courts who attempt to place a level of suspicion on the officer’s claims of probable cause. Rutledge believes: "The rule of probable cause is a practical, nontechnical conception that deal with probabilities; arguing, probabilities are not technical. They are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.” (2010) In support of Rutledge’s premise, one can argue, there will be many instances where police officers will be exposed to potential threats that will require analyzing a situation for dangers. This can explain why when officers pull someone over they ask if they have any weapons they need to know about. The law in North Carolina, states it is unlawful to conceal weapons from officers even in instances where one may have a license to carry a concealed handgun. Officers training and intuition teaches them to expect the unexpected. Waksman and Goodman enlist information from a Supreme Court case where this issue is visited. In the case of Michigan v. Long the court held, "that protection of police and others can justify protective searches when police have a reasonable belief that the suspect poses a danger, that roadside encounters between police and suspects are especially hazardous, and that danger may arise from the possible presence of weapons in the area surrounding a suspect." (pg 35, 2010)

The Warrantless Search and Probable Cause
According to Rutledge, “it is not possible for judges and lawyers ("legal technicians") to assign some mathematical probability value for probable cause. Instead, the "technicians" must try to measure the facts of each case from a practical viewpoint and assess whether those facts would justify a reasonable officer in believing criminal activity was afoot. David Waksman and Debbie Goodman lend supports to Rutledge’s assertion noting “a warrant is not always required.” Several exceptions have been allowed by the courts, based primarily upon necessity and danger to police officers. These exceptions have been specifically limited to the situations facing the police at the time.” (Waksman & Goodman, 2010) In lieu of these revelations, officers are often faced with the daunting task of making a split second decision to gain control of a situation that could pose a danger to themselves as well as innocent citizens or bystanders.

The Warrantless Search Exception
Rutledge’s article delves precisely into the confusion the courts and some legal pundits create for officers who are expected to uphold the rules of law without violating anyone’s individual rights. Over the years, the courts have broadened the rules governing situations where officers can employ exceptions to searches without the requirement of a warrant. Waksman and Goodman enlist the case of Michigan v. Long in support of exceptions where the court held, "that protection of police and others can justify protective searches when police have a reasonable belief that the suspect poses a danger, that roadside encounters between police and suspects are especially hazardous, and that danger may arise from the possible presence of weapons in the area surrounding a suspect." (pg 35, 2010) Additionally, they lend support to this resolve noting, “the most important exceptions to the warrant requirement are (1) safety of the officer and (2) to prevent the destruction of evidence." (pg, 32, 2010) Marvin Zalman enlists the "Carroll rule" which requires that (1) police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband, and (2) there is a “mobility exigency" the vehicle will be driven off if it is not immediately seized. (pg 271-272, 2008) Rutledge’s articles concurred, stating: “Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed." (Brinegar v. U.S.) (Rutledge, 2010)

Rutledge’s article does a good job uncovering the issues that complicates or in some instances may make officers more apprehensive in pursuing criminal elements based on probable cause. There are plenty of law enforcement officer who make good decisions about everyday when assessing a criminal element. How they explain their decision that probable cause existed will depend on many things along with their understanding of criminal procedure. Although, one can argue, over the years courts have leaned more towards the crime control model, there is always room for doubt, because of what Rutledge deemed confusions over the rule. As our society continues to evolve and become more complex in its evaluation of criminal procedures, law enforcement officer must be poised to become more persuasive in their efforts to negate claims of unreasonablessness in their searches. Deciding how we respond to circumstances that accompany their decisions and obeying the rules of law are intertwined clearly in the importance the courts and agencies continue to put on ethics and values.

Rutledge, D. (April. 2010). Understanding Probable Cause: It is important to know what does and does not constitute probable cause for any given situation. Retrieved from

Waksman, D. J., & Goodman, D. M. (2010). The Search and Seizure Handbook (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Zalman, M. (2008). Criminal Procedure: Constitution and Society (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.