Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Reasonable Suspicion vs Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are two phrases that are often heard in legal talk shows and also seen in articles in magazines and websites on the internet. These are standards of proof that are necessary for law enforcement authorities to take appropriate action. There are similarities between the two but in general probable cause is considered to be a higher degree of proof than reasonable suspicion. There are differences between reasonable suspicion and probable cause that will be highlighted in this article.

Reasonable Suspicion

If a police officer is investigating a crime and has suspicion on a person that he may have been involved in the crime, he decides on his further course of action which may be a stop for questioning. Reasonable suspicion is considered to be proof enough for cross questioning though less than what is necessary for the arrest of the individual. The police officer cannot take arbitrary action on the basis of hunch or gut feeling and reasonable suspicion provides him ground to start proceedings in the case of any crime. Reasonable suspicion is based upon circumstantial evidence and facts that point towards an individual. A police officer, when he has reasonable suspicion on an individual that he has been involved in a crime can stop and frisk him in an effort to further his investigation to solve the crime. The officer also has the option of detaining the suspect for a short time period.

Probable Cause

Probable cause is a standard of proof that justifies arrest of an individual on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Thus, if a police officer is in hold of proof that can be categorized as probable cause, he is entitled to arrest an individual to carry forward his investigation. If there is a reasonable belief that an individual has committed a crime or will commit one, he can be arrested. However, this suspicion of the investigating officer is based upon facts and evidence and not on his hunch.

Reasonable Suspicion vs Probable Cause

• Both reasonable suspicion and probable cause are standards of proof that necessitate or justify different courses of action.

• For an individual, probable cause has the repercussion of an arrest whereas reasonable suspicion is a lower standard of proof that only allows investigatory stop and frisking by the police officer.

• Probable cause can develop during the course of investigation and authorizes the officer to arrest an individual.

• Reasonable suspicion takes place before probable cause and has a lesser degree of evidence than probable cause.

• Investigating officer can briefly stop and interrogate a person on the basis of reasonable suspicion though he can even arrest a person on the basis of probable cause.

• Concrete evidence is behind probable cause, whereas there is no conclusive evidence in the case of reasonable suspicion.