Sunday, September 7, 2008

Probable Cause

“Probable Cause is facts and circumstances which, by themselves, would give a reasonable person the belief that 1) a crime had been committed; and 2) that a particular person had committed that crime.” That’s the bar-exam version.

You need Probable Cause to get a search warrant in this country, America that is, and you need it to stop and frisk someone on the street, and you need it to stop someone’s car too, unless it’s a DUI roadblock and you’re stopping everybody, Equal Protection and all. This entire house-of-cards has been weakened considerably by the Patriot Act, etc.

I love PC stories (thanks for a good one, Rory). Black people have always had the best. At one point my UPS rep in California, not the driver, the sales rep, was a Black guy with the initials, J.W. That’s a great job, he had a beautiful BMW, black, trick wheels, a nice ride. He’d gone to the University of Washington, “U-Dub,” and his license plate read, “J-Dub.”

Both of his parents were very successful doctors, they had a nice place in Beverly Hills. One afternoon on his way to see them he got pulled over by BH police. They are very conscientious about protecting their citizens from Black guys stealing BMW’s. Probable Cause? So far, maybe two arguments.

They looked at his paperwork, all in the name of J. . . W . . ., with the license plate “J-Dub,” and everything was in order. No more Probable Cause at this point, it’s his car. So of course they got him out of the car and sat him on the curb for more than a half-hour checking everything that could be checked. When he protested, telling them that his parents lived around the corner and that they could call them, they were home waiting for him, he was told, you just sit still, you wouldn’t want to have an accident, with the hand on the pistol.

Probable Cause is a wonderful thing, and it should be cherished and guarded from harm, not weakened as being of assistance only to alleged terrorists. During the Fifties and Sixties the holdings of many Supreme Court cases actually strengthened Probable Cause, police were limited in their stop and frisk and warrantless entry habits, you could say that Miranda was a Probable Cause case too.

Let’s hear it for Probable Cause! It’s part of what makes us American.

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