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What are reasonable suspicion and probable cause?

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

There are specific standards that police officers have to meet in various situations. While they’re trained to know what standard applies and when, most people who interact with them may not have that same type of understanding. 

Because protecting your rights is one of the primary tasks you have when you’re interacting with police representatives, it’s critical that you have at least a basic understanding of reasonable suspicion and probable cause because these are two very specific standards that they use.

What is reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is a lower evidentiary standard than probable cause. It’s used for situations like pulling over a vehicle if they think the driver is impaired or stopping someone on the street to ask them about something that’s going on. 

In order to meet this standard, the officer only has to observe something that a reasonable person would believe points to a crime having been committed, being committed or going to be committed.

What is probable cause?

Probable cause is a stricter standard than reasonable suspicion. It’s used for things like getting search warrants, seizing evidence and conducting arrests. In order to meet this standard, the police officer must have evidence that a crime being committed is probable.

The differences between these two standards may come into the picture during a criminal case. This is a complex element of some defense strategies, such as those that call the legality of a traffic stop or a search into question. Because of this, it’s typically best to work with someone who’s familiar with these standards and other criminal matters. 


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