Officer Background Not Enough to Establish Probable Cause

by | Jan 9, 2008

“Police training and experience, without more, is not a fact to be added to the [amount] of evidence to determine if probable cause exists. . . .”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has finally put it’s foot down on police officers’ end-run around having probable cause in making arrests for single narcotics transactions in Commonwealth v. Dunlap, 2007 Pa. LEXIS 2932 (Pa. Dec. 28, 2007). In Dunlap, a police officer attempted to justify the arrest of the defendant on his witnessing a single, brief, hand-to-hand transaction involving money for unknown objects on a street corner in a high-crime area based on his training and experience. The police officer did not see drugs or anything that he believed to be consistent with the packaging of drugs in his experience.

The court reaffirmed that there must be a nexus between the facts observed by the officer and the police officer’s experience, that is, the police officer must be able to articulate which experience he or she has that leads to the conclusion that the defendant committed a crime. The officer being an experienced officer, standing alone, is not a factor in determining whether there was probable cause to make an arrest.

This case is certain to change how suppression hearings look and how police testify, especially in cases where the police make an arrest based on their viewing a single transaction. I could get more into this here, and go on for hours as you can imagine, but I choose not to!

If you enjoyed this post, check out this article about criminal defense.

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