When police pull someone over and find a note in the operator’s car that apparently orders a bank teller to put “all money in drawer, have pistol, stay calm,” is that note enough to establish probable cause for arrest? The answer probably varies on a lot of other factors. In Colorado Springs, the police expressed the opinion that the answer is “yes,” that such a note was enough for probable cause to arrest a man for bank robbery.
In fact, the police did pull over a 32-year-old man in Colorado Springs recently, and they did find such a note. This led to his arrest for seven prior bank robberies. Other than the note, one of the factors for probable cause, according to the police, was the identity of the car.
There were also reportedly surveillance photos that the police used for identification. It is unknown whether they had been following him for days or whether they got lucky and simply spotted the suspicious vehicle. The determination of probable cause will depend on a lot of factors, and each case must be examined and evaluated on its own merits.
If the driver of the car was a professional actor who had a bank robbery script for an off-Broadway play in the car, for example, the police would not get far pointing to the script as proof that the man had committed robberies. Thus, the evidence of probable cause must be content specific. It must also point to actual criminal wrongdoing rather than innocent activities.
In addition, Colorado law requires that any video used for identification purposes must possess a certain level of clarity, and must not be of such poor-quality that there are no features resembling the suspect. It is also important to determine whether the perpetrator was wearing a disguise that could have militated against the video’s utility. The determination of probable cause to arrest for robbery may be subjective to some extent, but the court will strike down the probable cause determination if there is not enough evidence to preliminarily tie the suspect in with the crimes.
Source: kktv.com, “Man tied to 7 robberies in Colorado Springs arrested“, May 5, 2017