Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Whether the officers are seizing evidence or individuals, they must have some sort of reasonable suspicion or articulable probable cause, often depending on the length of the seizure.

The biggest difference between the 2 standards is that probable cause is a more stringent standard than mere reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is based on a reasonable person standard, while reasonable suspicion only requires officers to act as a reasonable officer would.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is not defined in the Constitution; the definition comes to us via the Supreme Court from a 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio.

The rule derived from that case says that police officers are allowed stop and briefly detain a person if, “based upon the officer’s training and experience, there is reaso to believe that the individual is engaging in (or about to engage in) criminal activity.”

Essentially, the officer is given the opportunity to step in to investigate.

Reasonable suspicion is based upon the standard of a reasonable police officer.


Probable Cause

As is the case with reasonable suspicion, probable cause is not defined in the Constitution.  Again, the definition of what is probable cause is left up to the Supreme Court.

  • Probable Cause to Search and Seize Evidence

Probable cause to search for evidence or to seize evidence requires that an officer possess sufficient articulable facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence or contraband relating to criminal activity will be found in the location to be searched.

  • Probable Cause to Arrest (Seize an Individual)

According to the Supreme Court, probable cause to make an arrest exists when an officer has knowledge of articulable facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a particular individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal act.

Criminal defense attorney David S. Cronin has represented thousands of clients in cases ranging from misdemeanor assault to major felony offenses. David Cronin has been practicing law throughout Florida for two decades – working directly with people who are facing harsh penalties for mistakes they wish they could undo.

Hire an attorney who understands your situation and will fight not only to reduce your penalties, but also to uphold your rights. 

The Law office of David S. Cronin defends in Duval, Clay, Nassau, and St. John’s counties.

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