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How do reasonable suspicion and probable cause differ?

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

When you’re facing any kind of criminal charge, understanding everything you can about your defense options is important. One critical component of many defense strategies is looking at whether or not the police actually broke the law during their investigation.

This often means calling certain technical aspects of the case against you into question. One of these is whether the legal standards for a specific situation were met. This usually means trying to determine if the officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop, launch an investigation or take whatever actions they took that ultimately led to your arrest.

What is “reasonable suspicion?”

Reasonable suspicion is the lowest standard of evidence required for an officer to act. Reasonable suspicion means that the officer made a sort of common-sense judgment call based on their observations and experience and concluded that criminal activity might be in progress and an investigation is needed.

For example, seeing a vehicle swerving along the road with its lights off in the dark could give rise to the reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated and lead to a traffic stop.

What is “probable cause?”

This standard is a bit stricter than reasonable suspicion. It requires more definitive evidence that a crime is either actually in progress or about to be committed, which means that it is enough to justify an arrest. 

For example, if the officer stops the driver mentioned above and the driver fails a Breathalyzer test, that’s probable cause for an arrest. 

There are cases that center around whether certain evidence is admissible or not. There might even be questions about whether an arrest was legal. When your freedom is on the line, take your defense seriously.