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Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer > > Criminal Defense > Probable Cause And Terry Stops

Probable Cause And Terry Stops


The state does not have the right to incarcerate you unless you have been convicted of a crime, and yet it is possible for police to arrest you and detain you until your probable cause hearing.  You cannot be convicted of a crime unless 12 jurors find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and yet prosecutors, and sometimes even public defenders, leave defendants feeling that pleading guilty is their only real option.  No one can arrest you without probable cause, but there is so much room for disagreement about what constitutes probable cause.  Then there are Terry stops, which aren’t really an arrest, but they still allow police to stop and search you, so things get even more complicated.  All of this goes to show that exercising your rights in a criminal case is not as simple as it sounds.  If you are in legal trouble after a Terry stop or other ambiguous interaction with the police, contact a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer.

The Role of Probable Cause in Pennsylvania Criminal Cases

Probable cause means that a police officer reasonably suspects you of involvement in a crime.  As for what the officer must reasonably suspect you of, it depends on the context.  For example, if police arrest you, they must later prove in court that they reasonably believed that you were in the act of committing a crime or had just committed a crime.  In other words, they must credibly claim to have caught you in the act.  For example, if a police officer sees illegal drugs in plain sight in your car, this constitutes probable cause to arrest you.  When officers seek an arrest warrant, they must show that the evidence is sufficient to show probable cause for arresting you.  In other words, they do not need to have caught you in the act, but they must show some other evidence, such as an intercepted package of drugs that was addressed to you.  To get an arrest warrant, they should show evidence that, if they search your residence, they will find specific evidence that indicates a specific crime.  They must say, “He sent these text messages about selling meth.  Therefore, if we search his house, we believe that we will find a meth lab or meth packaged for sale.”

In the News

Pennsylvania law allows for Terry stops, where a police officer can stop you and search your person, even without arresting you, as long as there was probable cause.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is evenly divided about what that means.  They issued this split decision in response to an appeal filed by Kevin Johnson, who was convicted of illegal possession of a weapon after a Terry stop.  Johnson does not deny that he possessed the weapon illegally, but he denies that the police had probable cause for the Terry stop.  The police were responding to a call about shots being fired.  Johnson had heard the shots and, like everyone else, was trying to get away from them.  He claims that the police stopped him for no reason other than being present in a high crime area.

Contact Gary E. Gerson About Criminal Defense Cases

A criminal defense lawyer can help you if the police arrested you without probable cause.  Contact the law offices of Gary E. Gerson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania about your case.




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