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Reasonable suspicion vs. probable cause 

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

While police officers have certain powers that aid them in the investigation of crime, these powers are not unlimited. Before making a traffic stop, for example, police officers need reasonable suspicion. Before making an arrest and charging an individual, police officers need probable cause. 

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are different types of evidentiary standards. What is the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause?

Defining reasonable suspicion 

Police officers cannot target individuals who have shown no signs of any wrongdoing. They also cannot act on mere hunches or suspicions not backed up by reasoning. Reasonable suspicion means that an officer strongly suspects unlawful activity. For example, If officers observe an individual in a park who has had several other people approach them, and they have exchanged cash, this may amount to reasonable suspicion. 

Officers may opt to approach the individual and ask what is going on. Suppose that an individual offers an innocent explanation or chooses not to engage with officers and there is no sign of criminal activity. In that case, the individual should not be detained, arrested or charged. 

Defining probable cause 

Imagine the same scenario as previously discussed. However, this time, upon questioning the individual, officers noticed bags of white powder sticking out of the person’s pockets. This indicates that drug dealing is a strong possibility. Thus, officers could argue that they have probable cause to search the individual and make an arrest. 

If you are facing criminal charges and suspect you were targeted without reasonable suspicion and arrested with no probable cause, this can be used in your defense strategy. Seeking legal guidance will help you to put this strategy into action.