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Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause: What You Need to Know

Reasonable Suspicion Vs. Probable Cause: What You Need To Know

If you have recently been arrested for or charged with a crime, you may feel overwhelmed with the legal terminology that you encounter. This can be a particularly difficult challenge when there are terms that sound as though they might mean the same thing, but that actually have very different definitions. When you are fighting to maintain your liberty, it is important that you understand the differences between terms that may have a bearing on your case.

Two such terms that people without a legal background often use interchangeably are “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” Here is what you need to know about the differences between these two concepts and how they may relate to your case.

Reasonable Suspicion

The concept of reasonable suspicion is based on the idea of what a “reasonable police officer” would think. If, based on the facts and circumstances of a situation, a police officer suspects that a crime is being committed, they may have “reasonable suspicion” if another reasonable police officer in the same situation would also have that suspicion.

In such a circumstance, the officer does not require physical evidence to have reasonable suspicion. Instead, the officer’s training, the particular circumstances, and a sense of what another officer would do in that situation suffice to justify reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion alone does not allow an officer to make an arrest. It does allow them to stop a person briefly in order to determine whether any other evidence can provide grounds for an arrest. If the officer sees a person driving erratically, for example, they may have reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. They can pull the driver over but may not arrest the driver on the basis of that reasonable suspicion. However, if the driver fails a sobriety test after being pulled over, the officer may then have probable cause to arrest the person for drunk driving.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is required before a police officer can get a search warrant or make an arrest. Probable cause is constitutionally established in the Fourth Amendment, citing it as a necessary factor if law enforcement is to search or seize a person’s property or to take them into custody.

Probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. In other words, while reasonable suspicion means that the officer suspects that a crime has been committed or is in progress, probable cause means that the officer has genuine knowledge the crime has been committed or is in progress. They must first have evidence that supports a suspicion before they can make an arrest or have a search warrant issued.

Contact an Experienced Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney

When you are facing time in prison, serious fines, and a criminal record that stays with you for the rest of your life, it is of the utmost importance that you understand what prompted a police officer to arrest you or to have a search warrant issued. If they acted without reasonable suspicion or without probable cause in a situation that required it, you might be able to use this fact as an element of your legal defense.

Determining whether police officers followed all of the proper procedures can be complicated. However, having an experienced Fairfax criminal defense attorney on your side can help. The legal team at Whitestone Young has the experience, skill, and knowledge necessary to gather the required evidence to defend you aggressively. Our lawyers may be able to have your charges reduced or dismissed altogether. Contact us online today or call us at 703-591-0200 for a confidential consultation, and we will advise you about your legal options.



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