The Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
When can the police detain, search, or make an arrest? Reasonable suspicion and probable cause give officers different authority over people and situations. Investigators need to abide by certain rules, so it’s beneficial to know the difference between these terms.
An officer has reasonable suspicion when there are facts or circumstances present which indicate that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. If reasonable suspicion exists, investigators can detain, frisk, and question the person or people they suspect. In many cases, reasonable suspicion does not rely on absolute certainty, but rather probability. Reasonable suspicion exists to help officers prevent crimes from occurring, which means that they can stop and briefly detain people when necessary if they believe them to be engaging in criminal activity.
Probable cause gives police officers more acting power than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause gives officers the right to make an arrest, search a person or property, or obtain a warrant. When there are sufficient facts or hard evidence that criminal activity has been, is being, or will be committed, officers can act on that information. The officer must be able to articulate the facts forming the basis for probable cause for any action to hold up in court.
There’s a simple way to determine whether evidence is cause for probable cause or reasonable suspicion: the standard for probable cause is that any reasonable person might suspect criminal activity, while reasonable suspicion exists if any reasonable police officer might suspect it.
At Doyle Schafer McMahon, we have experience with cases in medical malpractice, regulatory defense, business litigation, criminal defense, and family law. If you have questions about your rights in the event of a police interaction or any other case, speak with one of our attorneys online or by calling 949-727-7077.