Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion

Michigan law enforcement officials must find “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” before detaining a person for questioning, searching a person or his/her property, obtaining a warrant, or making a lawful arrest. Although these two legal concepts have certain similarities, establishing each of them requires certain circumstances.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion means having a reasonable presumption that a crime is being, has been, or will be committed. In other words, an officer can briefly detain an individual based on the facts and circumstances at hand—as well as the officer’s experience and training.

Reasonable suspicion is something more than a gut feeling or hunch. If reasonable suspicion exists, law enforcement officials can detain and question the individual.

For example, an officer patrolling the streets notices a car drifting between lanes and almost hitting other vehicles on the road. Based on the officer’s observations, experience, and training, he/she has reasonable suspicion to believe the driver may be operating a vehicle while intoxicated, causing the officer to make a traffic stop.

Probable Cause

On the other hand, in order to search or seize property, obtain a warrant, or make an arrest, law enforcement officials need probable cause to do so. Probable cause is established when there is hard evidence or enough facts that a crime is being, has been, or will be committed.

The main difference between the two concepts is that probable cause requires concrete evidence of a criminal offense, while reasonable suspicion means that a crime appears to be happening, has happened, or will happen. An officer must articulate the facts that formed the basis for probable cause to ensure the arrest holds up in court.

Going back to the previous example, after the driver pulled over and the officer approached the vehicle, the officer notices the smell of alcohol coming from the driver’s breath and his/her speech is slurred. These factors give the officer probable cause to make an arrest; however, the officer asks the driver to perform a field sobriety test or take a preliminary breath test to further establish probable cause.

Remember, if law enforcement officials fail to establish either reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause, the arrest is considered unlawful, which means any evidence gathered prior to the arrest can inadmissible in court. Without key evidence to prove guilt, the criminal case could be dismissed.

If you have been charged with a crime in Okemos, contact White Law PLLC today at (517) 316-1195 to request a free case review.