Clarifying the Foundations of Criminal Procedure
If you watch TV and movies, read the news or got arrested, you may have
heard the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable
cause.” It is easy to get the terms confused, as both play a role
in arrests, searches and warrants. Although very similar, reasonable suspicion
and probable cause have key differences that our Fort Worth criminal defense
lawyers want to clarify. If you have any questions, please
reach out to us at (817) 591 - 7850!
Understanding Reasonable Suspicion
Reasonable suspicion is defined by the US Supreme Court as “the sort
of common-sense conclusion about human behavior upon which practical people
. . . are entitled to rely." To determine whether reasonable suspicion
of criminal wrongdoing exists, the prosecution must evaluate the totality
of circumstances and support their allegations with particularized and
articulable evidence. It’s important to know that reasonable suspicion
is not merely a “gut feeling” but rather a reasonable inference
drawn from an officer’s training and experience.
Reasonable suspicion is the first and most foremost standard in criminal
procedures. If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime
has been committed, is being committed or will be committed, they may
frisk and detain a suspect for a short period of time. From there, they
may arrest, search or issue a warrant to someone as long as probable cause exists.
Probable Cause “Definition”
Probable cause is a practical, nontechnical standard that must be met before
the police arrest someone. Since the Constitution does not define probable
cause, courts often have a flexible approach to interpreting the term.
Black’s Law Dictionary states that probable cause "...amounts
to more than mere suspicion but less than evidence that would justify
a conviction." The key to identifying whether probable cause exists
for an arrest is to evaluate whether a reasonable person would believe
a crime had taken place based on the current facts and evidence at hand.
Probable cause is enough for police officers to:
- Make an arrest
- Conduct a search
- Obtain a warrant
For example, let’s say an officer is parked along a street and sees
a person stumbling out of a bar. The person gets into their car and drives
slowly down the street until they nearly rear-ended a car stopped at a
red light. This incident gives the police officer reasonable suspicion
to believe the driver is under the influence. Since they have reasonable
suspicion, the officer legally pulls the suspect driver over and asks
them a few questions, such as “Where are you coming from?”
and “How much have you drank tonight?”
In doing so, the officer smells alcohol coming from the suspect’s
car and hears them slurring their words, establishing probable cause to
search the vehicle. After finding no evidence of DUI in the vehicle, the
officer asks the driver to step out of the car to perform field sobriety
tests (FSTs) which, under Texas’ implied consent law, are required.
The suspect fails two of the three standardized FSTs, giving the officer
probable cause arrest the suspect for DUI.
Thus, reasonable suspicion must be established before an officer uses probable
cause as grounds for a search, warrant and arrest.
Reasonable suspicion has a broader standard than probable cause and depends
on police officers’ judgments. Despite the arguable subjectivity
of reasonable suspicion, it must be supported by the totality of circumstances.
Any evidence obtained without first having reasonable suspicion and subsequent
probable cause may be deemed inadmissible in court and even get a case
Arrested? We’ve Got Your Back.
If you are facing
criminal charges in Fort Worth, put
Jerry Loftin & Associates on your side. We will challenge every attack against you, including scrutinizing
your arresting officer’s reasonable suspicions and assertion of
probable cause against you. If successful, we may potentially help get
your charges dropped or minimized.
Contact us at (817) 591 - 7850 today!