Legal Guide

Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause: Differences Explained

Have you found yourself in a show-cause hearing that you weren’t prepared for? Not sure what your responsibilities are? It pays to know the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause so that you know how to accurately prepare what you’re going to bring to court, as well as how your case will turn out. Here’s what you need to know on the differences between probable cause and reasonable suspicion.

What Is Probable Cause?

When engaged in a show cause hearing criminal case, probable cause takes place before an arrest is made. Law enforcement, for example, requires there to be probable cause before they can stop and/or search someone. Officers must have clear and objective circumstances that leads them to believe that criminal activity is taking place.

Additionally, in the course of finding objective evidence for a crime, this can lead them to have probable cause as well. Probable cause is necessary to prevent officers from making arrests based on hunches, feelings, or assumptions. They are required to find substantial proof of a crime in order to obtain a warrant and conduct an investigation. Otherwise, the individual’s rights might have been violated.

What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion, on the other hand, is based on an inclination. Evidence is not necessary, and it can be used by an officer to investigate an area where they believe criminal activity has taken place. If they discover evidence in this area, then they are provided with probable cause to make an arrest. However, if no evidence is found, then an arrest cannot be made on reasonable suspicion alone.

A good example of this is if an officer witnesses a man at the park, and other people repeatedly walk up to him, shake his hand, then walk away. This would be reasonable suspicion that a drug deal is taking place. He cannot arrest the man on this alone, but can investigate the man and ask him questions in order to find probable cause to arrest him.

What Is The Main Difference Between The Two?

Although they are both forms of proof, there is one main difference between the two. Probable cause relies on objective circumstances and evidence, while reasonable suspicion has more to do with an inclination rather than actual evidence.

When Do Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion Meet?

There are some cases where reasonable suspicion can quickly become probable cause. For example, if an officer notices a car that is swerving across the lanes over and over again, as well as speeding, then he has a reasonable suspicion that the driver might be intoxicated or impaired in some way. He can pull the driver over and, on smelling alcohol on their breath, has probable cause to arrest them for driving under the influence.

It can be difficult to separate the two when trying to determine whether an officer has acted lawfully in making an arrest. But it’s easy to keep in mind that reasonable suspicion alone won’t lead to an arrest, but probable cause will.

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