The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes the law for arrests, it 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.”
The highlighted emphasis in the above text was added by this examiner to show that our forefathers wanted to ensure that the government did not abuse its power over the citizens. This amendment requires the government to produce a sworn reason for taking away the freedom of an individual citizen of the United States by an arrest.
In the case of the death of Travon Martin, no probable case affidavit was issued for the arrest of neigborhood watch captain George Zimmerman because of his claim of immunity of self defense. Due to public outcry and several citizen protests, a probable cause affidavit was issued and an arrest was made several days after the shooting. Experts say that the probable cause affidavit is so thin and weak that it may be dismissed since it is lacking in fact for a second degree murder charge.
What exactly is “probable cause”? The courts have wrestled with a legal meaning and each case is viewed on its own merits depending on the circumstances. For example, a relatively inexperienced police officer may find it difficult in determining probable cause compared to a more seasoned officer who, based on experience, becomes more believable in explaining that the evidence at a crime scene is sufficient to support “his or her” probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause is a “belief” made by the officer on the scene that all the evidence obtained, at that moment, is sufficient to support that a crime was committed, or about to be committed.
The scene evidence must support the facts to prove the elements of the crime The “belief” is based on all the factors the officer sees or hears and will lead to “who did it”. This belief need not be an absolute certainty at the moment. In most situations, the criminal has left the scene and only the establishment that a crime has been committed, but no suspect is apprehended at the scene. Crime scene technicians are employed to search for trace evidence left at the scene known as passive evidence and/or taken from the scene known as active evidence.
A local Tallahassee man, Keith Griffin, is suing the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) and three of its officers, for a false arrest based on a faulty probable cause affidavit. Officers responded to a reported burglary of the New Salem Primitive Baptist Church in Tallahassee. According to church officials, over $11,000 worth of electronic equipment was stolen (active evidence) and over $5,000 worth of damages were incurred.
Two TPD Forensic Technicians processed the crime scene and a print (passive evidence) was found on a cancelled check. The thumb print on the check was identified belonging to a city employee, Keith Griffin. Investigator L. Washington, #622, signed the probable cause affidavit on 20 October 2010. The break-in and theft occurred between 2 and 4 October 2010. The affidavit was approved by A.S.A. Eddie Evans on 10/19/2010. The magistrate found that the affidavit was sufficient and issued an arrest warrant. Mr. Griffin was arrested by six uniformed officers in front of his family, booked, photographed and spent 3 days and 2 nights in the Leon County Jail. A scanned copy of the actual probable cause affidavit is in this article slideshow for viewing.
Since the check containing Mr. Griffin’s thumb print was not part of the probable cause affidavit no one in the chain ever noticed that the check was made out to Keith Griffin and he cashed it 24 years ago. Most likely his thumb print was placed on the check when he cashed the check at that time. The check was issued to Mr. Griffin, a musician who played at the church 24 years ago. Mr. Griffin was released from jail as soon as the mistake was discovered. Mr. Griffin has obtained the legal counsel of James Cook who has filed a lawsuit against the officers for “recklessly” conducting an incomplete investigation leading to a faulty probable cause affidavit.
The city is defending the actions of TPD and the officers involved claiming that Investigator L. Washington never saw the check and therefore had no knowledge that it belonged to Mr. Griffin. The city is also claiming that the probable cause affidavit was not faulty because the print did, in fact, belong to Mr. Griffin and it was found at the crime scene leading to the “belief” that Mr. Griffin committed the break-in and subsequent theft. This probable cause affidavit contains not one fact sufficient to prove Mr. Griffin committed the burglary – his fingerpprint only proves he once touched a check found at the scene. It does not prove that he broke and entered the church and committed a crime therein which are all elements in the crime of burglary.
This entire case management by all involved, officers and legal officials, is so outrageous that it defies everything our justice system is suppose to prevent from happening. Innocent citizens should not have to prove their innocence. Is it because of lack of training, or a rush to judgement, to just “solve” one more case and look good in the statistics? Investigator Washington was never at the crime scene, never examined the check, omitted it from the probable cause affidavit and did not exhaust all efforts to locate Mr. Griffin before the arrest. This piece of paper is so powerful that it took Mr. Griffin’s freedom away in a moment and caused irreparable harm to his reputation. An arrest record, even a false one, is almost impossible to erase or expunge. A probable cause affidavit must be scrutinized for accuracy, sufficiency and be complete by every responsible person in the chain of command to ensure that no one’s freedom is taken away due to a careless mistake or intentionally to make the department look good.