Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion

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In the State of Texas, a police officer must have probable cause to arrest you but needs only a reasonable suspicion to stop you. While this may seem like a confusion of words, it actually represents an important distinction that it is helpful to understand. Justifying reasonable suspicion is less arduous than reaching the level of probable cause; read on to learn more.

Being Stopped by the Police

For the police to temporarily detain you or stop you – in a traffic stop, for example – they must have reasonable suspicion for doing so. A reasonable suspicion amounts to a presumption that a crime has been, will be, or is being committed based on the specific facts and circumstances at hand. The officer’s gut feeling or hunch, however, does not rise to this level. While an officer can detain you because of reasonable suspicion, he or she needs probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant or to arrest you. Probable cause involves concrete evidence of a crime having been committed.

Being Arrested by the Police

In order to arrest you, the officer must have probable cause to do so. Probable cause – as the name implies – means the officer has reason to believe that you were involved in the commission of a crime. If, however, you are stopped because the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you may have been involved in a crime, the officer can proceed to arrest you if, during the stop, he or she discovers evidence that amounts to probable cause regarding your involvement in a crime. (What to do if you are arrested or detained)

For Example

The difference between having probable cause and having a reasonable suspicion is best made by way of example. Consider the following fact pattern:

  • If an officer determines that your driving is erratic – for example, you weave in and out of lanes or accelerate for no discernible reason – he or she has reasonable suspicion to pull you over.¬†(Reckless Driving Charges are Very Real)
  • During this investigatory stop, the officer can delve more deeply into potential reasons for your perceived erratic driving.
  • If the officer discovers any evidence in support of his or her hypothesis that you committed a crime – the smell of alcohol for example – that evidence provides the officer with the probable cause he or she needs to follow through with an arrest. (Learn more about DWIs)

Within this process, there is plenty of room for error. For example, if you believe you were pulled over in a fishing expedition based on an officer’s hunch, you may be able to suppress evidence against you. Working closely with an experienced Killeen criminal defense lawyer will help protect your rights throughout the legal process.

If You Are Facing Criminal Charges, You Need an Experienced Lawyer on Your Side

If you have been charged with a crime, attorney Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, has the experience, dedication, and skill to help. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact or call us at (254) 220-4225 today.


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