Probable cause and reasonable suspicion in law enforcement are important terms used as a guideline to police officers or law enforcement agencies (Lushbaugh, 2012). The law enforcement officers and agencies are required to establish if there is reasonable suspicion or the probable cause that can instigate them to take certain actions regarding a certain criminal situation. Every officer is required to handle each situation based on the probable cause or a reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is defined as the actions or things that are obvious and factual forming part of the evidence. The evidence is obtained in a logical way that would lead the law enforcement agent or officer to believe that one has committed a crime, hence a conviction. According to the Fourth Amendment 1791, a warrant is only issued when there is a probable cause for arrest of a suspect (Lushbaugh, 2012).
On the other hand, reasonable suspicion takes place when a law enforcement officer, while exercising comprehension of the law. Furthermore, the officer exercises perseverance and great skills, uses intuition or belief that there is a crime committed or about to be committed (Lushbaugh, 2012). The law enforcement officer stops the supposedly suspect and performs an investigation on the suspect or in their residence. In case the suspect is thought to be armed with a weapon, the officer “pats” the suspect down after which they are permitted to leave or arrested depending on the outcome. Reasonable suspicion in criminal cases is followed by an elaborate and extensive investigation to prove the suspicion through concrete evidence before conviction of a suspect (Lushbaugh, 2012). Probable cause in criminal cases leads to a search warrant and collection of the obvious evidence to make a conviction of the suspect.
Lushbaugh, C. (2012). Criminal investigation: Basic perspectives. Boston: Prentice Hall.
Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are two of the most important concepts in deciding the when it is appropriate for police to make an arrest, search for evidence and stop a person for questioning. Probable cause and reasonable suspicion have evolved through state and federal court decisions, but they began in the U.S. Supreme Court.
<b>Probable Cause to Arrest</b>
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It goes on to specify that a search warrant cannot be issued unless there is probable cause for doing so. The Constitution does not offer a definition probable cause. Providing a definition was left to the justices of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment use of the word “seizure” to mean both the seizure of evidence and, as in an arrest, the seizure of a person. The Court also applied probable cause to searches, seizures and arrests conducted without a warrant.
According to the Supreme Court, probable cause to make an arrest exists when an officer has knowledge of such facts as would lead a reasonable person to believe that a particular individual is committing, has committed or is about to commit a criminal act. The officer must be able to articulate the facts and circumstances forming the basis for probable cause.
<b>Probable Cause to Search and Seize Evidence</b>
Probable cause to search for evidence or to seize evidence requires that an officer is possessed of sufficient facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence or contraband relating to criminal activity will be found in the location to be searched. As with an arrest, if an officer cannot articulate the facts forming the basis for probable cause, the search and seizure will not hold up in court.
Reasonable suspicion is a standard established by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case in which it ruled that police officers should be allowed stop and briefly detain a person if, based upon the officer’s training and experience, there is reason to believe that the individual is engaging in criminal activity. The officer is given the opportunity to freeze the action by stepping in to investigate. Unlike probable cause that uses a reasonable person standard, reasonable suspicion is based upon the standard of a reasonable police officer.