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Devenpeck v. Alford


An officer stopped the defendant based on suspicion that he was impersonating a police officer. On his approach to the defendant’s vehicle, the officer noticed that the defendant had a special radio designed to receive police frequencies, and the defendant possessed handcuffs and a portable police scanner. The defendant’s answers were evasive and inaccurate. After a supervisor arrived at the scene, he noticed a tape recorder in the front seat of the vehicle. The recorder was operating in the “record” position. The officers placed the defendant under arrest for violating a state privacy act, though their primary concern was that he was impersonating a police officer. At a later time, the privacy act charge was dismissed.


Whether the probable cause inquiry to arrest is confined to the known facts of the offense for which the arrest is made?


No. The government is only required to demonstrate that the arresting officer knew of facts that established probable cause of an offense at the time of the arrest.


The Court rejected outright a “closely related offense” rule, which would have permitted the officer to establish probable cause for offense (or a closely related offense) for which the defendant was arrested alone. No other potential offenses could sustain the arrest, even if the officer could establish probable cause. The Supreme Court has previously established that the determination of probable cause depends upon the facts known to the arresting officer at the time of the arrest. Maryland v. Pringle. The officer’s subjective motive for making the arrest is irrelevant. The Court stated the “[S]ubjective intent of the arresting officer, however it is determined (and of course subjective intent is always determined by objective means), is simply no basis for invalidating an arrest.”


543 U.S. 146, 125 S. Ct. 588 (2004)

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