If there has ever been a time when police officers had to search your belongings or determine whether you were involved in a crime, then you understand the importance of probable cause. However, for many people who have never had any dealings with criminal proceedings, there is often confusion between probable cause and reasonable suspicion.
Understanding the difference between the two can help you avoid being charged for offenses you did not commit. It may be discovered during an investigation that police officers had no right to suggest that you were involved in criminal activity.
What Is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is a legal standard that permits police officers to make an arrest or conduct a search of a person’s property or belongings. This legal standard was established by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement officials from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. Through probable cause, police officers must have a set of reasonable facts and evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has either been committed or is being committed.
What Are Some Examples of Probable Cause?
Probable cause is more than just a hunch or a form of suspicion. It consists of circumstantial or indirect evidence that suggests that criminal activity is happening. For example, information about possible criminal activity obtained from an informant can be an example of probable cause.
Any information observed using the five senses can also be a probable cause. For example, let’s assume a store was robbed and that a physical description of the robber was given through dispatch. A police officer sees a man about a mile away from the robbery scene who not only matches the physical description of the robber but is holding a small paper bag and a gun. Based on the evidence presented in front of the police officer, he or she would have probable cause to arrest the suspect or attempt to detain them.
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What Is Reasonable Suspicion?
Unlike probable cause, which requires a certain amount of evidence to be presented, reasonable suspicion is an inclination that police officers have. This legal standard requires police officers to practice a certain level of objectivity when suspecting a person of committing criminal activity. Even though it does not require as much evidence as probable cause, it still must be based on more than just a hunch or a suspicion.
What Is an Example of Reasonable Suspicion?
An example of reasonable suspicion is a person who is openly carrying drug paraphernalia and a gun. Seeing someone carry these items around would give a person reason to believe that the person is involved in illegal activity. If a person matches the description of a suspect involved in a crime, that is also an example of reasonable suspicion.
What Is the Difference Between Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion?
Regarding probable cause and reasonable suspicion, these two legal standards are often confused. The main difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion is the evidence required to prove probable cause.
For probable cause to be justified, there must be concrete evidence that can prove that a crime has taken place. Reasonable suspicion is a general observation where it can appear that a crime has taken place. For greater evidence of a crime, probable cause is necessary.
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When Do Police Officers Need to Use Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion?
When police officers want to stop someone or ask them a few questions, they would need reasonable suspicion. To make an official arrest or search a person’s property or belongings, they would need probable cause. Police officers cannot search your property or belongings without a search warrant.
This is why probable cause is so important. The facts and evidence that police officers obtain will be needed for officers to obtain a search warrant.
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How Do Police Officers Establish Probable Cause for Search Warrants?
To obtain a search warrant, police officers must apply for a search warrant with a district or circuit court judge. In the application, police officers must use facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has happened. In addition to the circumstances and facts, police officers must include:
- The reason why there is sufficient evidence for a search to be conducted
- The location that the police officer wants to search
- The property or belongings that will be seized
Are There Any Occasions Where a Police Officer Would Not Need a Warrant to Search a Property?
There are a few occasions where police officers would not need a warrant to search. As long as probable cause has been established, here are some of the situations where police officers would be allowed to search without a warrant:
- If a police officer obtained consent from the property owner to conduct a search
- If the search was conducted in relation to a lawful arrest
- If there is an emergency where the general public’s protection is at risk or evidence could be lost
- When the evidence was in plain sight of the police officer
Will Reasonable Suspicion Alone Lead to an Arrest?
If police officers attempt to arrest you based on reasonable suspicion, chances are you can be acquitted of any charges the police officers raise against you. Police officers can only arrest you if there is probable cause to do so and if there is sufficient evidence to convict you. When you have questions about reasonable suspicion, arrest warrants, and probable cause, be sure to speak to a criminal defense attorney.
How Can a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me?
When police officers allege enough probable cause to convict you of a crime, speaking with a qualified Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can help your case. You need an experienced lawyer who is dedicated, knowledgeable, and skilled enough to help you achieve the best outcome for your criminal defense case. The longer you wait to defend the charges filed against you, the higher the risk of losing your case.