Probable cause versus reasonable suspicion


Probable cause is a set of facts, circumstances or reliable information that would lead a reasonable officer to believe a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. Reasonable suspicion on the other hand is based upon the officers training and experience as it pertains to stopping and detaining citizens. Many citizens do not understand the difference between the two terms as it relates to law enforcement. Officers need at minimum reasonable suspicion to stop and detain a citizen but PC to make an arrest.

For example, an officer conducts a traffic stop in an area known for illegal narcotics. Based on the officers knowledge, training, and experience the officer may ask the driver to exit the vehicle and ask them further questions about why they were in the area, where they were coming from, in attempts to further build probable cause. The situation may change if the officer conducts the traffic stop on that same vehicle leaving a high narcotic area and as the officer approaches they observe narcotics in plain view. At this point, through the officers training and experience, they believe the driver has in their possession some sort of illegal narcotics. The officer may detain the individual and further investigate.

Moreover, an officer must be able to articulate the facts surrounding the basis for probable cause in order to avoid civil liability and to ensure they have a strong case against a defendant.

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