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Court Explains Probable Cause for Arresting a Suspect Under Washington Law

On Behalf of | Dec 24, 2020 | Assault

Typically, when a crime is committed, the police do not actually witness the offense and must rely on eyewitness reports and other evidence to attempt to identify a defendant. Mere suspicion alone is not sufficient to arrest a person, however, as the police must have probable cause to believe that a person committed a criminal offense prior to taking a person into custody. What constitutes probable cause was the topic of a recent Washington opinion issued by a court in a case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for assault and other crimes on the basis that his arrest was improper. If you are charged with assault, it is in your best interest to speak to a skillful Washington assault defense attorney to evaluate your rights.

Factual History

It is alleged that in November 2017, the victim called 911 and reported that the defendant, who was her boyfriend, came into her apartment, struck her in the face, and held a gun to her stomach while threatening to kill her unborn baby. The victim exited the apartment, which the police then surrounded, ordering the defendant to come out with his hands up.

It is reported that the defendant did not come out of the apartment but was arrested shortly thereafter behind the apartment next door. He was charged with assault and other crimes. A jury convicted him, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the police lacked probable cause to arrest him and therefore his arrest and conviction were unlawful. The court disagreed and affirmed his conviction.

Probable Cause for Arresting a Suspect Under Washington Law

Under Washington law and the United States Constitution, an arrest must be supported by probable cause to be lawful. Probable cause to effectuate an arrest exists when an officer has knowledge of facts that are adequate to make a reasonable person believe a crime has been committed. Probable cause must be personalized to the person arrested as well.

In assessing whether probable cause to arrest someone existed at the time of the arrest, the court will assess the totality of the facts and circumstances that were within the police officer’s knowledge at the time the arrest was made. In the subject case, the appellate court noted that the trial court held a hearing on the probable cause issue, finding that probable cause existed. Specifically, the trial court found that the arresting officer had a very detailed description of the person that committed the alleged offense, and that the defendant matched the description. Further, the victim stated that the defendant had attacked her, and the police arrived at the scene within five minutes. Thus, the court found that probable cause existed.

Speak to a Capable Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

An assault conviction can carry significant penalties, and people accused of an assault should be aware of their rights. If you are accused of assault, it is prudent to speak with a lawyer to develop a strategy for your defense. The capable Washington assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assess the facts of your case and advise you of your options for pursuing a just outcome. You can contact us at 253-363-8662 or via the form online to schedule a conference.