Explaining “probable cause” in Wisconsin

The Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, along with the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, serve to protect citizens against unlawful arrests, searches and seizures. These Fourth Amendment protections are often key to a criminal defense.

Under the Fourth Amendment, a law enforcement officer must have “probable cause” before they can arrest a person, search a person or seize their property. Without probable cause, these searches and seizures violate the rights of the citizen. Even if law enforcement is armed with a warrant to arrest an individual or search their person or property, probable cause must still exist. And, law enforcement must show that probable cause when applying for a warrant.

Each case must be examined individually to determine whether — under the circumstances of the search or arrest — probable cause existed. A law officer’s hunch or suspicion that something is amiss is usually not enough to qualify. Instead, the officer bears the burden of demonstrating that the facts known to the officer at the time of the search or arrest were enough to demonstrate that a crime was or may yet be committed.

If there was insufficient evidence to support a search or arrest in the first place, any evidence found as a result of the search or arrest is tainted and cannot be used to support the officer’s actions. When it comes to representing those charged with a crime, examining the probable cause used to support the charges is key to defending their rights. It is, therefore, important that anyone charged with a crime seek out a seasoned criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in the nuances of Fourth Amendment law.

Source: FindLaw.com, “Probable Cause,” accessed on April 10, 2018

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