Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are two fundamental legal concepts utilized when determining if it’s appropriate for police to search for evidence, stop an individual for questioning, or make an arrest. The terms are related, but there are important distinctions between the two. It’s important to understand the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause.
Reasonable suspicion is a standard of law set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, which established that law enforcement officers should be allowed to use their training and experience to help deter criminal wrongdoing. In other words, if an officer suspects a person or group of engaging in criminal activity, they can stop, question, and briefly detain them, based on the officer’s training and experience.
With reasonable suspicion, there isn’t a need for concrete evidence. Rather, there’s a reasonable belief that criminal wrongdoing has been, will be, or is in the process of being committed. This "reasonable belief" is informed by a law enforcement officer’s training and experience, and is based on the facts or circumstances involved in this situation. From a legal perspective, reasonable suspicion has more weight than a hunch or guess, but less weight than probable cause.
It’s also important to note that since reasonable suspicion does not rely on the presence of concrete facts or evidence, it’s open to broader interpretation. It can be harder to uphold in a court of law if charges are brought as a result of intervention by law enforcement on the grounds of reasonable suspicion. In order for the police to be able to arrest you or obtain and execute a search warrant, probable cause must be present.
Probable cause is the logical inference that a crime has been, will be, or is in the process of being committed, based upon concrete facts and evidence. Probable cause must exist for any arrests to take place, search warrants to be issued, or charges to be filed. Furthermore, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides all Americans with legal protections from unreasonable searches and seizures.
In short, the main difference between these two terms is that probable cause requires the existence of facts and concrete evidence of a crime, whereas reasonable suspicion is open to broader interpretation and relies on the training and experience of law enforcement officers who observe suspicious behavior.
The attorneys at the Michigan Legal Center have helped residents for the last two decades present strong police misconduct cases. Call 1800-961-8477 for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer. Christopher Trainor & Associates are happy to answer any questions you have and advise you on the next steps you need to take to receive compensation after a bad experience with law enforcement.