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The difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause

Critical thinking can be hard when police question you. You may not be guilty, but you fear that an officer will find grounds to accuse you of a crime.

Nervousness can cause you to forget about your rights and allow the police to search your car or home. You are even more likely to make this mistake if you do not know the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion. The fact that an officer can detain you does not mean he or she can rummage through your belongings.

Reasonable suspicion

There are several things you may do that cause reasonable suspicion, such as swerving on the road, looking into car windows or running out of a store after an alarm goes off. You also may resemble another person who has an outstanding warrant. In these types of situations, a police officer can stop you and ask you questions to alleviate his or her concerns. However, reasonable suspicion alone does not allow the officer to search you.

Probable cause

The fourth amendment does not protect you from search and seizure when an officer has probable cause. Some examples of probable cause are when a person has given the police incriminating information about you or an officer notices clear signs that you are committing a crime. It is best to comply with the police’s demands in these types of situations.

If you conflate reasonable suspicion with probable cause, you could assume that officers can search you just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Knowing the nuances of the law should help you keep a clear head when you interact with the police.

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