Probable Cause: Doctrine and Practice
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Much litigation has concerned the sufficiency of the complaint to establish probable cause. Mere conclusory assertions are not enough.1 In United States v. Ventresca,2 however, an affidavit by a law enforcement officer asserting his belief that an illegal distillery was being operated in a certain place, explaining that the belief was based upon his own observations and upon those of fellow investigators, and detailing a substantial amount of these personal observations clearly supporting the stated belief, was held to be sufficient to constitute probable cause. “Recital of some of the underlying circumstances in the affidavit is essential,” the Court said, observing that “where these circumstances are detailed, where reason for crediting the source of the information is given, and when a magistrate has found probable cause,” the reliance on the warrant process should not be deterred by insistence on too stringent a showing.3
- Byars v. United States, 273 U.S. 28 (1927) (affiant stated he “has good reason to believe and does believe” that defendant has contraband materials in his possession); Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480 (1958) (complainant merely stated his conclusion that defendant had committed a crime). See also Nathanson v. United States, 290 U.S. 41 (1933).
- 380 U.S. 102 (1965).
- 380 U.S. at 109.
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