In theory, no one is supposed to be arrested unless a warrant for the arrest is issued. However, in reality, every day in Florida, thousands of people are arrested without a warrant. Why? Well, it’s all because of a term most of our readers have probably heard before: “probable cause.”
“Probable cause” is required to get an arrest warrant, but it is also part of warrantless arrests. The key difference is that with warrantless arrests, there are also “exigent circumstances” that, under constitutional law, combine with probable cause to allow law enforcement officials to make the arrest without a warrant. These circumstances, for instance, might include danger to others or efforts to preserve evidence.
So, what is “probable cause”? In short, it is a reasonable belief in the guilt of a criminal suspect by the law enforcement official in question—a belief that the person committed a crime or was about to commit a crime. When applying for an arrest warrant, the details as to why the officer believes what he believes are provided, and must convince an impartial judicial official before the arrest warrant can be signed. If a warrantless arrest is made, that officer may find himself in court explaining why there wasn’t time or the right circumstances to apply for an arrest warrant before the arrest was made.
Your constitutional rights
All of these terms may sound like “legalese,” but they are important for protecting the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. Law enforcement officials must follow the rules and procedures that have been developed over decades of constitutional law analysis at the state and federal court levels. If there are constitutional violations in a criminal case, it can have massive implications for the defendant.