Kansas City Criminal Defense Lawyers
Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause: What’s the Difference?

Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause: What’s the Difference?

In order for a police officer to pull over a vehicle, detain someone, conduct a search, or make an arrest, he/she must establish reasonable suspicion and probable cause. While these two legal concepts are used interchangeably, proving each one requires a different set of circumstances.

Establishing Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion gives law enforcement the right to detain or make a traffic stop if there is a reasonable presumption—based on facts or circumstances at hand—that a criminal offense has been, is being, or will be committed. While reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard compared to probable cause, an officer needs more than a gut feeling or simple hunch to make an arrest.

For example, a police officer in a patrol car notices a motorist driving erratically in the late evening and without his/her headlights on. Based on the current situation and backed by years of training and experience, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver may be driving under the influence and can make a traffic stop.

Establishing Probable Cause

Probable cause is required to search and seize evidence without a warrant and make an arrest. An officer has probable cause if the facts and circumstances of a situation would lead a reasonable person to believe has been, is being, or will be committed.

Going back to the example above, once the officer pulls over the driver, he/she notices the smell of alcohol coming from the driver’s mouth, the driver’s delayed responses and slurred speech, and the driver’s red and watery eyes. The officer now has probable cause to arrest the driver for suspected DUI.

To make it easier to remember, reasonable suspicion exists if any reasonable officer may suspect criminal activity, while probable cause exists if any reasonable person may suspect it.

If you have been charged with a crime in Kansas City, contact Stein Law, LLC today at (913) 583-0465 and request a free case evaluation.


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