UT: PC can dissipate over time; just because they had it once doesn’t mean they always will

The trial court refused to bind over defendant for trial on arson charges. The state investigated (but not completely apparently) and never sought a search warrant for evidence at the scene while they found it suspicious. The fact there might have been probable cause on the day of the fire, the passage of time and learning new facts could result in dissipation of probable cause. The magistrate did not abuse his discretion in refusing to bind the case over. State v. Prisbrey, 2020 UT App 172, 2020 Utah App. LEXIS 173 (Dec. 24, 2020):

The question we are asked to consider is not whether probable cause existed to support a search warrant on New Year’s Day, but instead whether probable cause existed to support bindover at the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, in light of all of the evidence presented at that hearing. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the State could have demonstrated probable cause for a search warrant on New Year’s Day, it does not necessarily follow from that conclusion that probable cause will continue to be present at all subsequent stages of the case. Over the course of a case, inferences that once appeared reasonable may, upon further investigation, be proven to be unreasonable or no longer based on facts in evidence. And in exceptional cases, evidence put forward by a defendant at a preliminary hearing may overcome a prima facie showing of probable cause. See Lopez, 2020 UT 61, 46-48 (noting the “low bar” the State must surmount at a preliminary hearing, and stating that, given the low bar, “it may be difficult for the defense to overcome a prima facie showing of probable cause”).

28 The magistrate adjudged this case to be one of those rare cases in which the State’s evidence did not surmount the low probable cause bar. And in this unique case, for two related reasons, we discern no abuse of the magistrate’s limited discretion in reaching that conclusion.

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