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The Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause

The Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause

To stop a person for questioning, perform a search or seizure, or make an arrest, law enforcement must establish reasonable suspicion and probable cause. These are the two of the three “burdens of proof”—the other is beyond a reasonable doubt—the government must meet in situations involving your civil rights.

Reasonable Suspicion

An officer can briefly detain an individual or make a traffic stop if there is reasonable suspicion a person committed a crime, is currently committing a crime, or plans to engage in criminal activity—based on certain facts or circumstances. Having a gut feeling or a hunch does not qualify as reasonable suspicion.

For example, if the police notice a driver making a traffic violation—such as driving faster than the speed limit or driving with a broken taillight—they may have reasonable suspicion that the driver is driving under the influence. When officers make a traffic stop, they are given the opportunity to investigate whether there is evidence of a crime.

Probable Cause

An officer can make an arrest or conduct a search or seizure if probable cause is established. To prove probable cause, law enforcement must demonstrate there are facts or evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or will be committed in the future.

So, if the police notice the smell of alcohol from the driver’s breath, the driver’s slurred speech or red eyes, or an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, they have probable cause to make a DUI arrest or search the vehicle.

If probable cause cannot be supported by evidence or facts, then the criminal case could be dismissed, or the charges could be reduced.

If you have been arrested for a crime in Denver, CO, contact The Orr Law Firm today and request a free consultation.