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What is Probable Cause?

On Behalf of | Oct 1, 2021 | criminal defense |

Before police make an arrest, conduct a search or obtain a warrant, they must have probable cause. The term “probable cause” is found in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s protection against unreasonable government searches and seizures.

Courts in Maryland look at the totality of circumstances – meaning everything that the arresting officers knew or reasonably believed at the time of the arrest – when determining whether or not it was reasonable for law enforcement to make the claim of probable cause.

Probable cause should not be confused with reasonable suspicion, which is the required standard that allows the police to briefly detain a person suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause.

For cases involving search warrants, probable cause exists when there is fair probability that a search will result in evidence of a crime being discovered. If a search and seizure is believed to be lacking probable cause or reasonableness, then evidence obtained during the illegal search may not be admissible in a court of law and can be thrown out. Cases involving the suppression of evidence also deal with the question of probable cause.

Probable cause for certain types of cases has been undergoing a change. There’s been an evolution in the law regarding the smell of marijuana as it relates to permissible searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment.

The law was clear before 2014 that the odor of marijuana supplied probable cause to believe that criminal activity was occurring which justified the search of a car or the arrest of a person. However, in 2014, the Maryland General Assembly decriminalized possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, making it a civil offense, subject to a citation. Since then, the appellate courts have grappled with the question of the smell of weed as it relates to permissible searches and seizures based only on the odor of marijuana.

Maryland courts have ruled that when a law enforcement officer smells marijuana coming from a vehicle, there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle holds contraband or evidence of a crime. However, Maryland courts have also ruled that the odor of marijuana coming from a person does not provide probable cause to arrest and search incident to arrest. An Ocean City criminal defense attorney can provide more details.

If you’re facing criminal charges, an Ocean City criminal defense lawyer can look at the facts of your case to determine if your rights have been violated and how best to move ahead in formulating a defense for you.

Maronick Law LLC is open during the pandemic and will continue to meet your Glen Burnie, Annapolis, Baltimore, Essex, Ocean City, Towson, White Marsh civil and criminal defense attorney needs. The consultation is free.

We can meet with you remotely if you have access to Zoom. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.881.4022 or through the website for a free consultation.



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