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Understanding Criminal Investigations in Florida

In light of the terrible tragedy and massacre that occurred recently at an Orlando nightclub, many individuals are rightly wondering why such a senseless and horrible event needed to happen. Were there not signs in the killer’s life that indicated he was about to do something terrible? Why didn’t family members raise the alarm or law enforcement spring into action earlier and perhaps avert the massacre?

After any criminal act (but most especially after horrible violence like what took place in Orlando), the questions are many and the answers are few. However, there are several reasons why law enforcement may not have been able to act sooner in order to avert the Orlando tragedy.

The Basic Standard in Criminal Investigations is Probable Cause

In criminal law, significant law enforcement activity directed against another person requires the existence and articulation of probable cause to a neutral judge. Probable cause is a tricky concept to define. In essence, probable cause exists when a reasonable person can entertain a reasonable belief that the facts or circumstances are a certain way. Search warrants (to collect evidence, intercept phone calls, etc.) must be supported by probable cause. This means a law enforcement officer would need to produce evidence – facts and circumstances – that would be sufficient to create a reasonable belief in a judge that criminal activity is afoot and that certain particular evidence of such activity is likely located in the place to be searched. Officers cannot rely on hunches or “gut feelings” – if there are no facts to support the application for a search warrant, then the search warrant will not be issued.

Similarly, an arrest cannot be made (legally, at least) if officers do not have probable cause to do so. Probable cause in this context exists when a reasonable person can entertain a reasonable belief that the defendant committed a crime. Again, the police cannot rely on hunches, “educated guesses,” or gut feelings – if there is not sufficient evidence in the form of testimony or physical evidence to create probable cause, then an arrest cannot be made.

How Does This Apply in the Context of the Orlando Tragedy?

Some reports coming from the Orlando area suggest that there was little – if any – evidence prior to the shooting that the killer was engaged in criminal activity. If true, this would have made it very difficult for law enforcement to intervene earlier. Because of the protections individuals enjoy thanks to the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions, merely discussing thoughts of violence, visiting a gun store and making a legal purchase, or traveling to an area known for terrorism is not always enough to enable law enforcement to act.

South Florida criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner is available to assist residents charged with various criminal offenses defend themselves against unlawful actions by law enforcement or over-aggressive prosecution. Contact his office today at (305) 670-9919 for assistance, or contact his office online.

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