Personal Attention.
Aggressive Defense.

Photo of Thomas C. Mooney

The difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause

On Behalf of | Mar 24, 2023 | Criminal Defense

What do reasonable suspicion and probable cause have to do with someone’s criminal charges? People sometimes use certain terms interchangeably, leading to confusion. Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are common examples of such terms.

Here is the difference between the two:

Reasonable suspicion is based on experience and general knowledge

Reasonable suspicion is when the police are inclined to believe a crime is happening based on what they see. For example, they may suspect drunk driving when a driver swerves, changes lanes unsafely, speeds, runs a stop sign/red light, refuses to yield or tailgates. 

Therefore, reasonable suspicion depends on the facts or circumstances of a situation. The police can have reasonable suspicion that a person has either committed a crime or is about to do so.

Probable cause requires a bit more evidence

Probable cause comes after reasonable suspicion. When the police suspect a crime and take the required steps, such as stopping a driver and performing a Breathalyzer test, and then determine a crime was committed, probable cause comes into effect. Thus, probable cause depends on evidence. 

The police can take the next step if they have probable cause. For example, if a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit, the police will have probable cause to arrest. The police can also have probable cause to search if they have reasonable suspicion that a location is used for criminal activity and they have evidence to prove it. The court can give the authorities a search warrant to gather more evidence. Without reasonable suspicion and evidence, however, the police may not have probable cause to proceed as they would want.

Understanding legal terms can help you defend yourself when you are charged with a crime. You should obtain better information about crucial terms from a professional, which can help you make good decisions about your options.