Get a Better Understanding of Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides protection to the common man from arbitrary arrest, and unreasonable searches and seizures. The provision reads as follows: “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”.

According to this provision, a police officer must have a ‘probable cause’ to make an arrest, to search a person or property, and to obtain a warrant from the judge. In other words, there must be sufficient reason for a police officer to arrest a person, or to conduct search and seizure without a warrant. In that case, he must prove that there was probable cause, based on which the action was made. In order to obtain a warrant for search or arrest, the officer must establish the probable cause before the judge. This concept is mainly applied in criminal law, rather than civil law.

What is Probable Cause?
The concept is defined as follows: “Apparent facts discovered through logical inquiry that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime, thereby warranting his or her prosecution”.
In simple terms, probable cause can be explained as the requirement that has to be satisfied by a police officer so as to make an arrest or search without a warrant, or to obtain a warrant from a judge. The requirement is that, he/she must have adequate reason to believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. When it comes to search and seizure, the officer must have enough knowledge to believe that stolen goods, contraband, weapons, or any other evidence of crime are hidden in a particular vehicle or property, so as to conduct a search without a warrant.

Examples of Probable Cause

Example I: A police officer finds a person (A) roaming around vehicles parked on the street, in the middle of the night. In that case, the police officer may develop a ‘reasonable suspicion’ against ‘A’. Reasonable suspicion is not a ground for making a warrantless arrest. The officer detains ‘A’ for a short time and performs a frisk. If nothing is found, there is no ground for an arrest. If ‘A’ had tools like a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench; and he was getting nervous when questioned, the officer has a probable cause for arresting him. In this case, the officer has sufficient reason to believe that ‘A’ was about to commit a theft, as he found evidence to prove the same.

Example II: A police officer intercepts a car and its driver for speeding. He searches the vehicle, and finds a bag of cocaine hidden beneath the driver’s seat. The officer has probable cause for arresting the driver and seizing the vehicle as well as the cocaine, without a warrant.

Example III: An officer receives information that a gang of three is planning to rob a bank. He cannot arrest them or seek a warrant on the basis of this information. He follows them and collects enough evidence to prove their intention. He finds them buying masks and gloves, tools like bolt cutters, large bags, etc. The officer seeks a warrant against the gang through his testimony about the information received and the evidence collected. In such circumstances, the chances of obtaining a warrant is very high.

Sources of Probable Cause
So, probable cause is the standard to assess the reason behind a warrantless arrest or search , or a request for search or arrest warrants. From the examples mentioned above, it is clear that it is not based on mere suspicion. In order to make a warrantless arrest or search, or to obtain a search or arrest warrant, a police officer has to establish a probable cause, which must be based on factual evidence. Such evidence can be obtained from different sources. They include observation, expertise, informants, and circumstantial evidence.

Observational evidence is the proof collected by a police officer through observation. It includes what he hears, sees, or smells. For example, an officer can arrest those people who were found using illicit drugs. Some officers are trained to detect and identify certain gestures, tools, etc., that may point towards criminal activities. Such expertise is also a source of evidence, that forms the basis of probable cause. Circumstantial evidence is another source. For example, an officer finds a person hiding behind a store in the middle of the night. The person has a bolt cutter and other tools with him. In that case, he can arrest this person, whom he suspects to be a thief. In some cases, informants provide some evidence which can become the probable source. Such information can be received from victims, witnesses, or even informants. Probable cause is not a cause of concern if the defendant consents to the arrest or search.

How Much Evidence is Needed to Prove Probable Cause
There is no clear-cut method to calculate the amount of evidence required to establish probable cause. It is the judge who has to decide whether there is probable cause to make the arrest or search in a given case. As the standard is flexible and varies from case to case, the most important factor is to attain a balance between the duties of the police and the rights of citizens against arbitrary arrests and unreasonable searches. In general, it can be said that the standard of probable cause is something between ‘reasonable suspicion’ and ‘preponderance of the evidence’. In simple terms, it should not be a mere suspicion, and it need not be that elaborate as ‘preponderance of the evidence’, the standard of proof required in civil trials.

It may also happen that the officer acted in good faith and believed that he had enough reason; but the judge may conclude that there was in fact, no probable cause. In such cases, the evidence becomes inadmissible in court. However, it very important for a police officer to have a valid and strong probable cause, even if the suspect turns out to be innocent.

In short, probable cause is a legal concept that can be described as the reason behind: (1) a warrantless arrest or search; or (2) a request seeking a warrant. In Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, the Supreme Court held that, “Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed”.

A Simple Explanation of the Best Evidence Rule With Examples

In a legal dispute, two or more parties present their grievances before a court of law. To support their claims, either party can introduce some proof, which the judge can use in deciding the outcome of the lawsuit. Such proof produced before a judge with his/her permission is known as evidence.

Evidence can be of different types. All spoken or written statements made by witnesses is called testimonial evidence. Material evidence involves all objects relevant to the lawsuit, like murder weapons in a criminal case. On the other hand, documentary evidence involves written material, like wills and contracts. Finally, demonstrative evidence contains recorded aspects of the case, such as photos, videotapes, and maps.

Among all the types of evidence explained above, documentary and demonstrative evidence are unique. This is because, making duplicates of documents, photos, or videotapes is a routine affair. This brings their reliability into dispute when such is evidence used in deciding a case. This is why the best evidence rule is used, as the following sections explain.
What is the Best Evidence Rule?
When the contents of a written work or photograph are disputed in a court, then submitting the original copy of such object(s) as evidence is a must. Any duplicate copy of such an object is not admissible as evidence, when the original is available. This legal doctrine is known as the best evidence rule. In the United States, Rules 1001-1008 in Article X of the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) deal with this principle.
What Does it Apply To?
1. Writings and Recordings: Includes letters, words, numbers, or their combinations; either handwritten or mechanically printed on paper.

2. Photographs: Still photographs, X-rays, films, videotapes, and motion pictures.
♦ It is applicable only when the contents of the said document or photograph are to be proven.

♦ When the existence, and not the contents of such recordings is to be proven, original copies are not mandatory.

♦ If the offering party cannot provide the original copy, duplicates may be allowed if the court receives a satisfactory reason.
When are Duplicates Allowed?
■ When the original copy is lost or destroyed, without any fraudulent intentions of the party offering this evidence.

■ If the original copy cannot be obtained by any judicial process.

■ When the material is of a public or official nature.

■ If the original copy is in possession of the opponent.

■ When the writing or photograph is not directly related to a case.
Origin of the Rule
The origin of the best evidence rule can be traced back to the British courts of the 18th century. During this period, courts attempted to limit testimonial evidence in favor of written or documentary evidence. Owing to the lack of sophisticated copying equipment at the time, documents had to be hand-copied by a clerk, which posed the risk of introducing errors. Therefore, the courts required the offering party to produce only original copies to prevent inaccuracies. In the modern day, this rule is used to prevent fraud by digital manipulation of documents and photographs, rather than keep out errors.
◊ United States v. Rivera-Carrizosa
In 1993, Agustin Rivera-Carrizosa was arrested for illegally reentering the United States despite being deported a year ago. During the trial, an agent testified against him, saying that he saw his birthplace mentioned as ‘Mexico’ on his birth certificate, which he found in his immigration file. When Rivera-Carrizosa appealed, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed his conviction because the original copy of the birth certificate had not been produced in court.
◊ Dyer v. State
In 2010, Curt John Dyer was arrested for stealing DVDs from an adult video store in Lauderhill, Florida. The main evidence against him was the store manager’s testimony, saying that he saw the accused committing the crime on surveillance video. The Fourth District Court of Appeals turned down the conviction, because the prosecution had failed to produce the surveillance footage before the court.
◊ United States v. Duffy
In 1972, James H. Duffy was arrested for transporting a stolen car from Florida to California. The evidence produced against him involved the testimony given by an FBI agent, saying that he had seen a white shirt with the letters ‘D-U-F’ in the trunk of the stolen vehicle. Duffy appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that the best evidence rule had been violated, as the original shirt with the writing had not been produced in court. The judge turned down his appeal, saying that the laundry mark on a shirt was not a writing in the true sense.

The best evidence rule is a relic of the times when copying was done by hand, making original copies the best representation of any document or photograph. With modern photocopying technology making high-quality duplicates possible, many courts have begun to consider these copies as good as the original ones.

Legal Transcriptionist Job Description

The term ‘legal transcription’ is not so popular as ‘medical transcription’ since it is comparatively a new trend in the legal field. Duties and responsibilities of a medical transcriptionist and a legal transcriptionist are more or less the same, only the fields are different. Although no particular degree is required to become a legal transcriptionist. The candidate needs to have a perfect understanding of legal terminology and a good command over English language.

Legal Transcriptionist: Duties and Responsibilities

Legal transcription job description involves typing the legal documents while listening to dictations from legal professionals. This helps to store the documents in correct form and produce them when required. Documentation involves correct use of legal terminology which is quite different from common language. Grammatical or typing mistakes are not tolerated. Accurate legal records help the lawyers to provide more protection to their clients. Lawyers can go through these documents and can prepare well to win a case. Some companies prefer to outsource their work for a quicker turnover while some prefer to rely on in-house transcriptionists. Those have been in medical transcription for a year or two, may be selected by the employing facilities to work as legal transcriptionists and may be provided on-job training.

A legal transcriptionist is expected to analyze the data on his own. He/she is supposed to retain what is essential and to remove what is not required in written documents. He/she should know the proofreading techniques as well. He/she needs to pay attention to details while listening the recorded court proceedings or information. The transcriptionists may be required to make written documents of court proceedings with the help of notes or recorded audio tapes. Sometimes, the transcriptionist himself has to record the court proceedings by speaking into the microphone (without disturbing the others). The microphone is covered by a mask which helps prevent disturbance. The transcriptionist is expected to record everything going on in the court, including the reactions and hand gestures of the witnesses, lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, etc. noticed during the arguments. He/she is expected to write down the detailed report of the legal proceedings by listening to the recorded information. Good knowledge of the legal system, various laws plays an important role in legal transcription process. A legal transcriptionist would be expected to have good research skills, language skills, computer skills as well as management skills.

Legal Transcriptionist as a Career

At the entry level, you may work in the office of a private practice attorney who has large number of cases. Then depending upon your experience and excellence, you may get a chance to work in larger firms or larger corporations. You can also work in government departments, insurance companies and banks. All these employing facilities require accurate legal records for various purposes. Those who have a good command over English, solid understanding of legal terminology and excellent listening, writing and typing skills may think of becoming a legal transcriptionist. The demand for legal transcriptionists is growing day by day. Legal transcriptionists can make good money as they are in demand. Certain career institutes offer training courses for legal transcription. Those who have a certification for legal transcriptionist training will obviously be offered good salary at the entry level. You may be offered ‘on the job training’ as well. Your earnings will grow with experience. Even retired lawyers are working in some companies as legal transcriptionists as they find it easy to write up legal records.

These days, plenty of jobs are available for legal transcriptionists as there is very little competition. The labor bureau is expecting an overwhelming increase in the demand for legal transcriptionists for next few decades. As a legal transcriptionist, you can even work from home. Once you have some experience of working in large firms, you can work independently. So this is a good career option for young and aspiring students who have a keen interest in legal proceedings.

Ways to Become a Legal Transcriptionist

Legal transcription is becoming one of the fastest growing careers in the legal world. Why? Well, quite similar to medical transcription, legal transcription is also a highly demanded job profile. This is because just like the medical world, there is a constant need for quick and accurate documentation of the various happenings in court cases. So, people with superior typing and active listening skills are sought out for legal transcription. This Buzzle article will offer you some guidelines on how you too can go ahead and become a legal transcriptionist, given that it doesn’t have any formal educational requirements for the profile.

Becoming a Legal Transcriptionist

Know your Language
Being any kind of transcriptionist requires a very efficient command over the language that you will be transcribing in. For the purpose of this article, we’ll take that as English. So, if you have plans of becoming a transcriptionist, then one thing you need to make absolutely sure of is that you have impeccable knowledge of the English language. Grammar is of utmost importance, because sometimes you may be required to even review and proofread legal documents. When you know your grammar well, you can catch incorrect statements and correct them, thus making the document error free. Getting certified in an English speaking course can help you with this. Or if you’ve majored in English while in school or college, that can also prove to be beneficial. This is not a mandatory step, but will definitely help you increase your level of confidence.

Get Typing
The next step to getting into the world of legal transcribing is to master the art of typing. Yes, you will be required to listen, comprehend and type verbatim whatever is dictated to you about particular cases by your employer. Or you may also be employed directly in the courthouse to type out the court proceedings as they take place. So, it is imperative that you have a very good typing speed. About 65 to 80 words per minute is the average typing speed that is expected of most legal transcriptionists. For this, you also need to have a good knowledge of word processors and be at least moderately computer literate. You can enroll yourself in a proficient typing course and learn to type fast and increase your speed.

Get Certified
Once you’re confident about your typing speed and your language skills, you can search for courses on legal transcription. There are several online courses which not only guide you on the process of legal transcribing, but also help you to learn, read, pronounce, and understand the various legal terms that are used in everyday court proceedings. Plus, they also give you knowledge about the format of documentation in the legal world. Most of them last about 12 weeks. When searching for such courses online, or in your locality, make sure that you choose one which is suitably accredited by the Department of Education of the United States of America. Again, note that getting certified in legal transcription is not a formal requirement for the profession, but it will certainly give you an edge because you’ll already have some prior knowledge of the functioning of the job.

Job Hunt
Once you get certified the task of hunting for a suitable and appropriate job begins. You can apply with independent lawyers. Or you may also apply to a legal firm which handles multiple clients and different domains within the legal world. You can also look for openings at courthouses. The job requires a lot of concentration and confidence in one’s ability to hear and type out accurately whatever is being said.

The job prospects in legal transcription are only growing with time. It can unfold into a full-fledged legal career and that too at an appealing income between $35,000 to $40,000 a year. So, if you think you’re made for this kind of job, then go ahead and do all that is required. Good luck!