When reading about criminal law in any way, it is likely that you have seen or heard the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” Often, these terms are used interchangeably.
However, it is important to note that reasonable suspicion and probable cause each have very distinct meanings. Furthermore, they also differ in terms of their potential legal consequences. As a result, defining the two terms and exploring the differences between them could be worthwhile.
What is reasonable suspicion?
Generally, law enforcement officers are not permitted to simply pull you over or carry out a search in an arbitrary manner. Additionally, they cannot accuse you of committing a crime based on prejudicial reasoning, such as your religion or ethnicity.
Police officers are required to examine all facts and circumstances in a given scenario. If they have a legitimate basis for suspecting that a crime is in the process, has already been committed or is about to be committed, then they can be said to have “reasonable suspicion.”
What is probable cause?
American citizens are afforded legal protection under the Fourth Amendment of the constitution. This means that law enforcement cannot carry out unreasonable searches or seizures of property. Importantly, for a search, seizure or arrest to be lawful, officers must have solid evidence that a crime has been committed.
The key difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause is the level of evidence that law enforcement must have to support their actions. Reasonable suspicion is a judgment call based on experience and the situation, while probable cause requires some real evidence of a crime.
Understanding the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause could be in your best interests. If you have been accused of a criminal offense in Virginia, you should remember that you have legal rights. Your defense needs to start early.