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Uncovering The Differences Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Mercer County Criminal Defense Lawyer

In order for the police to stop someone, perform a search, or make an arrest, they must have the proper standard of proof. Standard of proof is a certain level of belief that a suspect has done something illegal, warranting the police officer to inquire further. Two legal standards of proof applicable to police officers are reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The differences between these two terms are very important and could be enough to get your charges dismissed. A qualified Mercer County criminal defense lawyer must review your case in order to determine whether these standards were met.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a relatively low standard by which a cop may justify brief stops and detentions. Before the stop or detention, the officer must have an articulable reason to believe that criminal activity is occurring or has occurred based on the totality of the circumstances. An inchoate hunch is not enough.

Examples of reasonable suspicion include:

  • Observing a swerving car
  • Observing a physical problem with a vehicle, such as a broken tail light
  • Suspect drops a suspicious package upon noticing the officer

Simply saying that the suspect seemed suspicious is not enough to justify a stop or frisk.

Probable Cause

A step up from reasonable suspicion is probable cause. This is a higher standard that requires police officers to have adequate reason to believe that a crime has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur, before they can conduct a search or place an individual under arrest. Such adequate reasoning must stem from specific facts and circumstances rather than just a suspicion. Whereas a detention (temporary) only requires reasonable suspicion, an arrest requires probable cause.

Similarly, there must be probable cause to conduct a search. In general, an officer must obtain a warrant (based on probable cause) in order to search private property. But there are instances when a warrant is not necessary, such as:

  • The officer receives consent from the individual in charge of the property or premises
  • Searching an area incident to a lawful arrest (searching the person and the area within the suspect’s immediate control upon arrest)
  • When exigent circumstances are present (e.g., there is a high probability of loss of evidence or a threat to public safety)

If an officer performs a search without probable cause and ultimately seizes property, that evidence will not be permitted at trial because it was improperly obtained. Your Mercer County criminal defense lawyer will argue that it must be excluded.

Have A Criminal Defense Lawyer in Mercer County Review Your Case

These legal standards have significant implications in criminal matters. Your first step should be to retain a criminal defense lawyer in Mercer County to determine whether your constitutional rights were violated upon a stop, search, or arrest. Mark Catanzaro has been defending his clients for nearly 30 years in criminal matters that include DUIs, drug crimes, weapons crimes, and the like. You can trust that this Mercer County criminal defense lawyer has your best interests in mind and will fight for your rights.

Contact Mark Catanzaro’s office today to set up your free consultation.




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