Joshua T. Crain Law Blog

What is the Difference Between Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion?

Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are two legal standards that law enforcement officers must meet when conducting searches, making arrests, or obtaining warrants. While both involve a level of belief or suspicion, they differ in their strength and the circumstances under which they are applied.

Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are critical elements of every criminal case. If an officer makes a stop or arrest without the proper probable cause or reasonable suspicion, it can result in the entire case being thrown out.

A skilled Murfreesboro criminal defense attorney can review the circumstances of your case and identify whether you have a defense based on law enforcement’s failure to comply with these key legal standards.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is a higher standard compared to reasonable suspicion. It refers to the belief, based on specific facts and circumstances, that a crime has been committed, or that evidence of a crime can be found in a certain location. This belief must be supported by reliable and credible information. It’s often described as having enough evidence to lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has occurred.

When probable cause is established, law enforcement officers can make arrests without a warrant, conduct searches, and seize evidence. It’s a crucial standard for obtaining search and arrest warrants from a judge. For example, if an officer observes illegal activity or receives a tip with substantial evidence, they may have probable cause to make an arrest or search a suspect’s property.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard of belief than probable cause. It means that an officer has a reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that a person is, was, or will be involved in criminal activity. This suspicion must be more than a vague hunch or intuition; it should be supported by observable behavior or circumstances.

Reasonable suspicion allows law enforcement officers to briefly stop and question individuals, known as a Terry stop or a stop-and-frisk, to determine if further investigation is warranted. This standard is often used in situations where there’s not enough evidence for probable cause, but there’s a legitimate concern for public safety or the prevention of a crime.

The key difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion lies in the strength of belief and the level of evidence required. Probable cause requires a higher standard of evidence, suggesting a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred or that evidence is present. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard, indicating a reasonable belief that a person may be involved in criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts.

Both standards are crucial in protecting individual rights while allowing law enforcement to carry out their duties effectively.

The Right Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Lawyer For You

Criminal defense attorney Joshua T. Crain has a deep understanding of criminal laws and standards and uses this knowledge to apply the law to each individual case. Known for his cutting-edge and aggressive defense style, Joshua Crain can provide the quality defense representation you need. Contact us to learn more and discuss your case.