Criminal Defense Lawyer
Conroe, TX and Montgomery County

The Difference Between Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion

Rear view of police officers arriving to do a home investigation looking for criminal evidence.

Make sure you understand your rights when dealing with the police.

When the police are investigating crimes, they need to follow the law. Someone who is suspected of committing a crime has constitutional rights. If those rights are violated, evidence wrongfully obtained by the police cannot be used in court. And if there is not enough evidence, those criminal charges should be dropped or dismissed.

Two of the legal standards police need to meet at various stages of an investigation are called “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” An experienced criminal defense attorney can review the evidence, determine whether the police met those standards, and take action to protect your rights – and your freedom.

What is reasonable suspicion?

The legal system defines reasonable suspicion as an actual, articulable reason to believe a crime has occurred, is occurring, or is about to occur. Reasonable suspicion is something more than just a mere “hunch.” The suspicion has to be associated with a specific individual. Just because the police think “something is wrong” does not mean they can detain anyone in the area. They must have a particular reason to detain you.

Reasonable suspicion is used to determine whether a police investigation violated your Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. The police need reasonable suspicion to briefly detain a suspect – for example, to pull you over on the road or stop you for questioning on the sidewalk.

Some examples of reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop include:

  • Weaving between lanes
  • Driving at an excessive speed
  • Failing to stop for traffic signals
  • Making an illegal turn

It’s important to remember that reasonable suspicion is based on the totality of the circumstances; that is, several behaviors combined may add up to reasonable suspicion even if the individual behaviors are innocuous. For example, driving below the speed limit or weaving within a lane are not behaviors that establish reasonable suspicion in and of themselves, but they could be part of a larger pattern of suspicious behavior.

What is probable cause?

Probable cause is a higher standard of proof than reasonable suspicion that is required for the police to actually arrest you for a crime. There is no hard and fast definition of probable cause, but courts look to see whether the facts and circumstances known to the police at the time of the arrest were enough for a reasonable person to believe the suspect has committed a crime.

Probable cause is also required for the police to conduct a search of your home or vehicle without your consent. Again, that means they need enough information to reasonably believe that a specific building, vehicle, or other location contains evidence of a crime. Probable cause is also the standard judges use when deciding whether to authorize a search warrant.

If the police didn’t have probable cause for a search, any evidence discovered during the search can be thrown out and cannot be used against you in a criminal trial in a court of law. In addition, if the police didn’t have probable cause to arrest you, they can’t use anything they found after the arrest against you. Again, this often leads to charges being dropped or dismissed because there is not enough evidence for the prosecution’s case to move forward.

Why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney

Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are complex legal concepts that require knowledgeable interpretation. It’s important to have an attorney on your side who understands how judges apply these concepts in court and how to identify violations of your civil rights that can be used to strengthen your legal defense.

As a former prosecutor, attorney Amanda Webb understands how probable cause and reasonable suspicion affect criminal cases in Texas. Our experienced legal team will investigate the circumstances of your arrest and create a legal strategy to protect your future.

If you’ve been arrested or are facing criminal charges, don’t handle your defense on your own. Get an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner. Contact The Webb Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation.

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