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The difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause

On Behalf of | Aug 23, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Law enforcement personnel have various powers at their disposal for the purpose of preventing crime and investigating criminal cases. For instance, officers may pull vehicles over if they suspect that a driver is intoxicated. The stop may lead to an arrest and detainment.

However, certain conditions must be met before the liberties of an individual are infringed upon. This is where the evidential standards of reasonable suspicion and probable cause come in. What is the distinction between reasonable suspicion and probable cause?

Identifying suspects

Officers cannot target people for discriminatory reasons. For instance, a person cannot be searched or pulled over purely because of their skin color. There must be some suspicion that wrongdoing has occurred, and this suspicion must be reasonable. For example, if a person is driving erratically, that may warrant a traffic stop. If the vehicle is pulled over and there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, then the driver should not face arrest or charges (although they may get a traffic citation.

Taking further action

As stated, reasonable suspicion alone is not enough to arrest and charge an individual. There has to be more. Probable cause is established when law enforcement finds evidence of potential criminal activity. For example, if a driver is pulled over and slurs their words and smells of alcohol, this will warrant further action. A failed breathalyzer test in these circumstances would give law enforcement the probable cause required to make an arrest.

If you have been arrested and charged and have issues with the procedures used, it’s important to assert your rights. Seeking legal guidance will give you the best chance of protecting those rights.