We’ve been speaking about probable cause in our last couple posts, particularly what it generally is and why it is important to explore the issue when building a criminal defense case. As we mentioned, it is important to be aware that police can make mistakes in assessing whether there is probable cause to conduct a search or make an arrest.
Nowadays, of course, we are quite aware of the fallibility of police officers, even if we understand that police officers may generally do good work. When an officer makes an arrest or conducts a search without adequate basis and the case still makes it to trial, it is clearly important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or to have illegally obtained evidence thrown out, when possible.
Any discussion of mistake in the context of criminal investigation needs to take into account the fact that law enforcement officers can and do make reasonable mistakes and that the validity of their work is not thereby invalidated. Case law has established that reasonable mistakes of law and fact, whatever the case may be, do not destroy the integrity of otherwise legitimate police work.
The key is that the mistakes must be reasonable for the police work to remain valid. An officer who takes action with knowing ignorance of all the facts in a case or of the law that applies to the situation cannot be considered to be making a reasonable mistake.
Dealing with mistakes in law enforcement in the context of criminal defense is important, and working with an experienced defense attorney ensures that one will have the advocacy needed to protect one’s rights.