Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion – What is the difference
Our criminal defense law firm represents client charged with crimes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By far, the most important concepts that we need to explain to client and their families is probable cause and reasonable suspicion. The terms are often used interchangeably but they are different. This difference is very important. Criminal charges are the result of investigations. Even those charges that start with an anonymous tip are investigated by police before the district attorney’s or a prosecutor’s office decides to bring charges against a person.
What is probable cause and why is it important.
Before obtaining a warrant or arresting someone, police must have probable cause, the requirement that protects a person’s Fourth Amendment right against illegal search and seizure (the arrest). Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within the police officer’s (or another law enforcement official’s) knowledge are sufficient enough that a reasonable person would believe that the person arrested or searched was committing or had committed a crime.
While police need probable cause to arrest, they need only reasonable suspicion to start an investigation. Consider reasonable suspicion to be a lower form of probable cause.
Both probable cause and reasonable suspicion ask whether a reasonable person in the officer’s position would act on the information. Courts use all evidence available or what is called a “totality of the circumstances” analysis to determine if either probable cause or reasonable suspicion exists.
Burden of proof and probable cause
Keep in mind that the standards for probable cause and reasonable suspicion are much less than what is needed to convict a person of a crime. Probable cause authorizes a more severe intrusion, and therefore, law enforcement must meet a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is a fair probability or a reasonable ground that a crime was committed or is being committed.
While reasonable suspicion requires fewer articulable facts, the officer must still demonstrate that he or she had more than just a subjective belief or hunch. Reasonable suspicion permits the brief stop of a person and may justify limited searches.
Many arrests occur after searches. While there are exceptions, law enforcement officials must usually have a warrant to conduct any search of a person’s home, vehicle or belongings. The establishment of probable cause is crucial to a search warrant because without it, the search violates the Fourth Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Pennsylvania’s Constitution also contains a provision against illegal search and seizure through Article I, Section VIII of that document.
Warrantless search is a major issue in all criminal defense cases but especially those involving illegal guns, drugs, narcotics, controlled substance, Drunk Driving and DWI. This is reason why our criminal defense law firm focuses so much time researching it and discussing the issue with clients and their families in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Here is quick list of things to keep in mind, especially if you’re traveling this weekend in Pennsylvania or New Jersey
- You have Constitutional rights. They are the right to remain silent. Should you choose to exercise that right, say so out loud.
- You also have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home.
- If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
- You have the right to consult with an attorney if you are arrested. It is advisable to ask for one immediately
- Stay calm. Be courteous, polite and respectful to all members of law enforcement.
- Remember the details of the encounter to the best of your ability.
- File a written complaint if you feel your rights have been violated.
- Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.
- Do not lie to police (you should not be saying anything anyway) and or give false documents, identification, etc.
If You Are Arrested
- Do not resist arrest regardless of how unfair you feel the arrest is.
- Tell the cop(s) you choose to remain silent and ask for an attorney immediately. Don’t give any explanations or excuses. If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one. Don’t say anything, sign anything or make any decisions without an attorney present.
- You have the right to make a local phone call. Legally the police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
- Prepare yourself and your family. Memorize the phone numbers of your family as well as your attorney. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.
- If in holding tank or jail do not confide in, or discuss your case, with others who are also detained.
- A judge will determine if your charges are legitimate and adhered to probable cause laws. If you give any false ID or statements bail can be denied.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.