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Probable Cause In New Jersey


Probable cause is a legal standard that is required for law enforcement to make an arrest, conduct a search, or seize property. In New Jersey, there are three components that must be met in order for probable cause to exist: reasonable suspicion, probable cause affidavit, and search and seizure.

Defining Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Understanding reasonable suspicion and probable cause is essential for understanding when law enforcement is legally permitted to search or make an arrest. In a criminal case, reasonable suspicion is present when indicators of criminal activity would lead any reasonable person to the belief that a crime may or already has occurred.

This means that the reasonable suspicion standard is much lower than probable cause; in order for an officer to use reasonable suspicion as justification for a search, they need only community standards of logical thought.

Probable cause, on the other hand, requires more substantial evidence, such as witness testimony or a video statement. In order for an officer to prove probable cause he must present ample evidence in court of explanation that justifies his actions. Therefore, law enforcement officers must be very careful in defining reasonable suspicion and probable cause when making arrest or conducting searches.


Reckless driving could lead to reasonable suspicion of a crime and eventually probable cause. For example, if an officer notices a driver swerving frequently or running red lights they may pull them over. If the officer smells alcohol on the individual's breath, observes slurred speech or other signs of intoxication, then this could be considered probable cause for an arrest and possibly even sobriety testing.

In these cases police have the authority to search their personal belongings even if the person does not consent. When arresting someone for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) it is important for officers to make sure have reasonable suspicion or probable cause as any missteps can lead to a violation of rights and evidence suppression.

How Search And Seizure Works In Relation To Probable Cause

Search and seizure laws in New Jersey are highly intertwined with the concept of probable cause. In order to execute a search and seizure legally, law enforcement officers must have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has taken place or is about to take place. Some examples of factors that could authorize such searches involve open containers in vehicles, evidence of drug paraphernalia, and reports from informants.

If any one of these is deemed as having sufficient substance to indicate that there most likely was a crime committed, then it can qualify as probable cause and a search can be conducted. In New Jersey, violation of these laws often results in hefty penalties for anyone found guilty by the court of law. Thus, understanding how search and seizure interacts with probable cause is an important part of upholding justice in the judicial system.

Understanding Your Rights

As citizens of the state, it's vital that individuals understand their rights regarding law enforcement. This includes knowing the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause as it relates to search and seizure. Knowing and understanding your rights during an arrest or investigation makes all the difference in ensuring your legal protection when interacting with law enforcement officers.

If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC.

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