The importance of probable cause is hard to overstate, and yet most people don’t know what constitutes probable cause in Texas. Although it has been invoked in virtually every arrest ever made and every search ever performed, the definition of probable cause remains intentionally vague. 

Mark Thiessen, founding attorney of Thiessen Law Firm and Criminal Law and DWI expert, is here to help you understand what exactly counts as probable cause and what you can do about it. 

What does probable cause mean in Texas?

Probable cause is a standard established by the Fourth Amendment that must be met in order for police officers to make an arrest. For such an important piece of due process, you might find it surprising that no Texas Penal Code provides a clear definition of probable cause. 

Instead, the standard for probable cause dictates that a law enforcement officer can make an arrest when they are confronted by facts or circumstances that would lead a “reasonable individual” to the conclusion that a crime either has been committed or is about to be committed. 

The difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion in Texas

Reasonable suspicion is essentially the step that comes before probable cause. If a police officer thinks you are committing a crime, reasonable suspicion must be established to pull you over before they develop probable cause to arrest you.

Reasonable suspicion’s definition is about as vague (and long) as the definition of probable cause, but the U.S. Supreme Court has defined reasonable suspicion as “the sort of common-sense conclusion about human behavior upon which practical people . . . are entitled to rely.” This doesn’t mean much, but they have also said that reasonable suspicion must be based on facts, and amount to more than an “unarticulated hunch.”

Examples of probable cause for DWI arrests

The above definitions don’t totally illuminate what police officers are looking for when making arrests, but we know what they’re looking for. Some probable cause examples in DWI situations include:

  • If you are pulled over under suspicion of DWI and fail a breathalyzer test, police officers will count this probable cause for arrest. Although not all blood alcohol content (BAC) tests hold up to scrutiny in court if you have a good lawyer.
  • A little bit of swerving or switching lanes is not probable cause for arrest, but reckless driving is. If you are ignoring traffic signs or are otherwise driving dangerously, that often stands as probable cause for arrest.
  • Your behavior and physical appearance can count as probable cause. If you are confused, slurring your speech, or having trouble balancing, you can bet the police officers will bring you in. If they administer field sobriety tests, and you fail, you can expect the same — regardless of whether you’ve been drinking.
  • The officers will likely try to look inside your vehicle when they first approach. If there are any signs that drugs or alcohol have been anywhere near the car, they will run with it. If they see something they don’t like, they will likely use it as probable cause for arrest, but not before attempting to search the vehicle.

Essentially, the less you give them the better. Keep a clean car and utilize your right to remain silent and they will have a much harder time building evidence. 

Probable cause for searching cars and homes

Is smell probable cause in Texas? If they claim they smell drugs or alcohol, can a cop search your car? Smell is not sufficient probable cause for an arrest, but it is reasonable suspicion for questioning and for searching your car. Because marijuana is illegal in Texas, if a police officer claims that they smell marijuana, they can reasonably believe that a crime is being committed. 

What if the police want to search my home? The following are some reasons that would justify the police searching your home:

  • You give the officer(s) consent to search the premises.*
  • The search is incident to law enforcement making a lawful arrest. 
  • There is an emergency situation that may affect another person’s life.
  • They have a search warrant.

The list is pretty short. If a police officer wants to search your home and you do not allow them, they will most likely either go away or go away and return with a warrant.

*People don’t want to seem like they are doing anything wrong, and worry that denying a search will make them look guilty, but this is not the case. Denial of a search cannot be used to prove guilt in court, and if a police officer asks to search your home or vehicle, you should say no. 

What happens if you were arrested without probable cause?

Although police officers establish reasonable suspicion and probable cause to move forward in the arrest process, the judge actually has the final say in what constitutes probable cause in Texas. If you believe the arresting officers did not have sufficient evidence when making your arrest, the best thing that you can do is hire the best lawyer you can find.

DWI arrests need to be carried out with great attention to detail by law enforcement. There are many steps in the process that ensure your fair treatment that are often skirted because they don’t expect anyone to know. If you want these slip-ups by law enforcement to come to light, you need to hire the best DWI lawyer in Texas. You need to hire Mark Thiessen from Thiessen Law Firm. 

Did your arresting officer not know what constitutes probable cause in Texas? Call Thiessen Law Firm ASAP.

What constitutes probable cause in Texas? Up to a point, the police decide, but ultimately it will be decided by a judge — and defended by your lawyer. Mark Thiessen’s incomparable work in DWI includes a slew of cases in which law enforcement violated his client’s rights. He can smell bad police work from a mile away. 

If you or a loved one were arrested under questionable circumstances, and you’ve found yourself wondering if due process was followed, call Thiessen Law Firm. We’re as passionate about winning as we are about serving justice. Give us a call today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.