The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure and was established to help protect the rights, safety, and property of all people. Without the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement would have free access to willfully search your person and property. Whether or not you have something to hide is irrelevant — you have the right to privacy and to not be searched or detained without a reason. In today’s post, we will help clarify what reasonable suspicion and probable cause are so that you can better understand your rights and advocate for yourself if they are being violated.
At the Law Offices of Murphy and Price in Colorado Springs, we have been fighting for the rights of Colorado residents, tourists, and military service members for two decades. If your rights have been violated or you are facing criminal conviction based on evidence that was discovered without a valid reason to look or find it, contact us. We offer complimentary consultations and will begin building your criminal defense right away.
Before we jump right in, it is important for every citizen to understand that you do not have to do everything a law enforcement officer tells you to do. If you know your rights, respectfully remind them of your rights and ask for your lawyer. If the law enforcement officer has either probable cause or reasonable suspicion, they are within their rights to exercise their duty to protect. If you willingly agree to a search or you leave your belongings where any reasonable person would be able to see, neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion is needed to obtain evidence.
What Is Reasonable Suspicion?
Reasonable suspicion is a broad term that a law enforcement officer can use based on their training and experience to justify stopping or questioning a person who they think may have committed a crime, is engaged in criminal activity, or who will commit a crime. What this means is, if a cop sees something that suggests criminal activity, to include a routine traffic violation, they are within their rights to confront the suspect. Reasonable suspicion must be supported by facts and circumstances, not simply a hunch. For instance, if a law enforcement officer is driving with traffic and sees a car in front of them swerving and alternating speeds, they can make a routine stop for the traffic violations, but can then use their experience and training to discern whether or not a crime is being committed.
What Is Probable Cause?
While reasonable suspicion may warrant law enforcement to stop and question someone in an attempt to gain information or to evaluate the situation more closely, it still does not authorize the agent to search or arrest them. A law enforcement officer is not able to search or seize property without a warrant or probable cause. Probable cause is having knowledge of, credible information regarding, or witnessing a crime or proof of criminal activity. From our earlier example with the swerving driver. A nearby police officer can pull the car over and question the driver and even ticket them for traffic infractions, but they cannot make an arrest or search the vehicle. If, while the officer is talking to the driver, however, they detect the smell of alcohol on the person, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or any other indication that the driver is under the influence, then they have the probable cause they need to search the vehicle for paraphernalia and make a DUI arrest.
Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between reasonable suspicion and probable cause, our defense attorneys hope this will help you better understand your rights and when they are being violated. If you are detained by law enforcement, contact your criminal defense lawyer right away, and if you don’t have one, save our