How much physical evidence is needed to support an officer’s probable cause claim to enter a home?

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How much physical evidence is needed to support an officer’s probable cause claim to enter a home?

A police officer stated that he saw a car pull up to a residence and it appeared to him that something was exchanged. He followed the car to a abandoned lot. The occupant of the car appeared to use drugs then throw something out of the car. The officer then went to the area where the vehicle was parked and found drug paraphernalia. He didn’t get the license plate of the car. He then went back to the residence where the car left and entered without a search warrant. The homeowner was arrested. Several hours later the officer produced search warrant based on probable cause.

Asked on March 30, 2011 under Criminal Law, Maryland

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Probable cause is determined by whether in this case the officer had a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was occurring.  Whether or not there is sufficient evidence to support probable cause is determined by the judge, who in this case, subsequently issued the search warrant.  There isn't a specific amount of physical evidence.  The totality of the circumstances determines whether or not there is probable cause.

If the officer had probable cause, entry into the residence was permissible.  There are exceptions where a search warrant is not required.  In this case, the officer could claim exigent circumstances to have initially entered the residence without a search warrant.  If the officer had waited to obtain a search warrant, contraband or suspects may have been gone by the time the officer returned with the search warrant.  The officer had observed in plain view the car leaving the residence and the drug paraphernalia where the vehicle had been parked.  These facts would be used to support the officer's claim of probable cause.


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