Lay Judgements of the Probable Cause Standard

Law, Probability and Risk, Vol.17, No.2, 2018, Forthcoming

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-43

19 Pages Posted: 30 May 2018  

Matt Baucum

University of Southern California

Nicholas Scurich

University of California - Irvine

Richard S. John

University of Southern California

Date Written: May 30, 2018

Abstract

Much legal discourse has focused on the probable cause standard and the constitutionality of law enforcement searches. Existing case law stipulates that probable cause requires less than 50% certainty in a suspect’s involvement in a crime, and that it should be applied consistently regardless of the crime at hand or type of search in question. Because courts have previously declared probable cause to be a ‘lay’ judgement, this experiment investigated whether lay perceptions of the probable cause standard align with the legal guidelines surrounding it.We assigned 406 respondents to read various scenarios varying by crime (assault, narcotics or robbery) and intrusiveness of search (person, car or home), and judge whether a police officer would be justified in conducting a search. Case law suggests that search decisions should not generally depend on the nature of the crime at hand, but may depend on the invasiveness of the search being conducted. Results suggested that respondents generally made their search decisions in line with these principles, but that they implicitly assumed probable cause to require ‘more’ certainty in a suspect’s crime involvement than case law would prescribe. We discuss the implications of these findings for the perceived fairness of police procedures and its impact on police–community relations.

Keywords: probable cause, lay judgements, search and seizure, public perceptions.

Suggested Citation

Baucum, Matt and Scurich, Nicholas and John, Richard S., Lay Judgements of the Probable Cause Standard (May 30, 2018). Law, Probability and Risk, Vol.17, No.2, 2018, Forthcoming; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-43. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3187532

Matt Baucum

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Nicholas Scurich (Contact Author)

University of California - Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

Richard S. John

University of Southern California ( email )

2250 Alcazar Street
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
60
rank
333,474
Abstract Views
282
PlumX