University Police 150B

Legislative Updates

The Changing Nature of Probable Cause under the Fourth Amendment

Probable Cause (herein referred to as “PC”) has been subject to numerous descriptions over the pass decade by the U.S. Supreme Court, especially since the founders of the U.S Constitution intentionally chose not to define the legal concept in any way within the Fourth Amendment itself.

By necessity, the U.S. Supreme Court has had to breathe life into the subject but only in sporadic and disconnected basis in American legal history as cases have raised dealing with the subject. Furthermore, not being an educational institution, these various attempts to define PC are present at times in a less than favorable fashion in terms of the following citizens, a police officer, or a lawyer to clearly and concisely understand the related doctrines. What follows is what this author calls the PC Checklist, a brief summary of various PC related concepts developed by American courts over the years to assist in the understanding of PC.

As it turns out, this PC checklist is actually used by courts not only for PC, but also in fact, in varying degrees the different concepts are also used for all fourth amendment issues (regarding the exceptions to search warrant requirements and law enforcement use of force) as well as the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment issues.


  • reasonable person test
  • average person test
  • cautious person test
  • objective/not subjective (personal opinion) test
  • factual requirement
  • totality of the circumstances test
  • practical approach
  • fluid concept
  • time frozen concept
  • hearsay ruling including collective knowledge of law enforcement
  • logical test
  • common sense rule

Charles N. Braun II, Attorney at Law

University Police
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Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306

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