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Fourth Amendment limits on drug arrests

Sometimes, during police investigations of alleged drug activity, authorities will arrest individuals on suspicion of drug crimes, such as suspicion of drug possession. As is the case with many police tools, police cannot simply conduct drug arrests whenever and on whoever they feel like. There are certain requirements an arrest needs to meet to be legal.

One thing that puts limits on police arrests is the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. Under the Fourth Amendment, in order for police to conduct an arrest, such as a drug arrest, they must have probable cause.

Generally, to have probable cause for an arrest, police need to have factual evidence backing up their suspicion that the person they are arresting is connected to a suspected crime. Such evidence can include things like: physical evidence, circumstantial evidence, observations, police expertise and witness/informant/victim information.

Whether police had probable cause for a drug arrest, and thus whether the arrest was legal, can be a significant issue in drug crime cases. Drug arrests sometimes result in police acquiring evidence against the arrested individual. If a drug arrest is deemed to have lacked probable cause and thus been illegal, evidence that police acquired as a result of the arrest may be thrown out.

Probable cause is a fairly flexible standard, so whether or not probable cause was present for a given drug arrest can sometimes be a rather complex issue. Criminal defense attorneys can help individuals who have been arrested for suspected drug crimes look into the circumstances of their arrest, determine if there is anything that indicates that probable cause may have been lacking and figure out what their options are if a possible lack of probable cause is detected.

Source: FindLaw, "When is an Arrest a Legal Arrest?," Accessed Nov. 20, 2014

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