What is Reasonable Suspicion?

If you know anything about civil rights cases, you have heard the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” tossed around. But what is the difference between the two? Whether you are on the defending side or the plaintiff side of a civil rights case, it is important to know what each is and how they differ.


Reasonable Suspicion

 Reasonable suspicion is a reasonable belief based on facts or circumstances, which allows a police officer to stop an individual or question him or her. Additionally, they may search for weapons but only if the officer believes the person is armed or presents an imminent threat. Essentially, reasonable suspicion is a standard lower than probable cause and it doesn’t require certainty that the suspect has done something illegal.


Probable Cause

Probable cause is the logical belief, also supported by facts or circumstances, that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. It is needed for a police officer to be able to arrest someone, conduct a search, or seize property.


  • Arrest Under Probable Cause – There must be concrete evidence in order for probable cause to be applicable to an arrest. Probable cause must come from specific facts and circumstances, rather than from a hunch or suspicion.
  • Search Under Probable Cause – Probable cause to search exists when facts and circumstances provide a basis to believe that a crime was committed at the place to be searched or that evidence of a crime exists at the location. Search warrants must specify the place to be searched, as well as items to be seized.
  • Probable Cause to Seize Property – Probable cause to seize property exists when facts and circumstances lead the belief that the item or items are contraband, stolen, or evidence of a crime.


If you have questions regarding reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or a potential civil rights case, contact us today at 1-800-THE-FIRM for a free case evaluation.

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