Probable Cause Versus Reasonable Suspicion

Definition of Probable Cause - Probable cause means that a reasonable person would believe that a crime was in the process of being committed, had been committed, or was going to be committed.

Legal Repercussions of Probable Cause - Probable cause is enough for a search or arrest warrant. It is also enough for a police officer to make an arrest if he sees a crime being committed.

Definition of Reasonable Suspicion - Reasonable suspicion has been defined by the United States Supreme Court as "the sort of common-sense conclusion about human behavior upon which practical people . . . are entitled to rely." Further, it has defined reasonable suspicion as requiring only something more than an "unarticulated hunch." It requires facts or circumstances that give rise to more than a bare, imaginary, or purely conjectural suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion means that any reasonable person would suspect that a crime was in the process of being committed, had been committed or was going to be committed very soon.

Legal Repercussions of Reasonable Suspicion - If an officer has reasonable suspicion in a situation, he may frisk or detain the suspect briefly. Reasonable suspicion does not allow for the searching of a person or a vehicle unless the person happens to be on school property. Reasonable suspicion is not enough for an arrest or a search warrant.

Stop and Frisk - In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the court recognized that a limited stop and frisk of an individual could be conducted without a warrant based on less than probable cause. The stop must be based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion based on articulable facts, and the frisk is limited to a pat-down for weapons. An anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not, by itself, sufficient to justify a stop and frisk. Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000).

Florida v. Bostick 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991) - A person's refusal to cooperate is not sufficient for reasonable suspicion.

Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124-25 (2000). - A person's flight in a high crime area after seeing police was sufficient for reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk.

The same requirement of founded suspicion for a "person" stop applies to stops of individual vehicles. United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266 (2002). The scope of the "frisk" for weapons during a vehicle stop may include areas of the vehicle in which a weapon may be placed or hidden. Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983). The police may order passengers and the driver out of or into the vehicle pending completion of the stop. Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997). The passengers may not be detained longer than it takes the driver to receive his citation. Once the driver is ready to leave, the passengers must be permitted to go as well. During a stop for traffic violations, the officers need not independently have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot to justify frisking passengers, but they must have reason to believe the passengers are armed and dangerous. Arizona v. Johnson, 129 S Court. 781, 784 (2009).

The Difference Between the Two - The terms probable cause and reasonable suspicion are often confused and misused. While both have to do with a police officer's overall impression of a situation, the two terms have different repercussions on a person's rights, the proper protocol and the outcome of the situation.

Reasonable suspicion is a step before probable cause. At the point of reasonable suspicion, it appears that a crime may have been committed. The situation escalates to probable cause when it becomes obvious that a crime has most likely been committed.

Probable Cause to Search
In order to obtain a search warrant, the court must consider whether based on the totality of the information there is a fair probability that contraband, evidence or a person will be found in a particular place. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983).

Probable Cause to Arrest
In order to arrest a suspect the officer must have a good faith belief that a crime has been committed and the individual he is arresting committed the crime. In Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366 (2003). In Pringle, an officer was permitted to arrest three individuals in a vehicle where marijuana was discovered. The court reasoned that, even though the officers did not have evidence that any one of the three occupants was responsible for the drugs, probable cause existed as to all of them because co-occupants of a vehicle are often engaged in a common enterprise and all three denied knowing anything about the drugs.

Texas - Goldberg v. State, 95 SW.3d 345 (Tex. App. 2002).

An arrest is proper when it is based upon article 14.03 (a)(1) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which permits a peace officer to arrest a person without a warrant if the person is found in a suspicious place and under circumstances that reasonably show that such person has been guilty of some felony or breach of the peace.

Facts: Mr. Goldberg was accused of entering a wig store, punching one attendant in the throat, and cutting the other attendant's wrist and stabbing her when she attempted to call for help. The assailant quickly left the store. A witness in the parking lot followed the assailant to his vehicle. The witness provided police with a license plate number for the vehicle. The police traced the vehicle and located the defendant, the son of the owner of the vehicle. The police handcuffed Mr. Goldberg, performed a pat down and informed him of his rights. Mr. Goldberg stated he was willing to talk to the officers. He was later uncuffed.

The officer felt the hood of the vehicle and it was still warm. Mr. Goldberg denied driving the vehicle or knowledge of the crime. The officers also noticed a blood stain on Mr. Goldberg's shirt and a red mark on his chest. Goldberg consented to a search of the house, his apartment and the vehicle. The officers found fibers matching the wigs at the wig shop. Mr. Goldberg claimed that the vehicle had been stolen several times but the person always returned the vehicle to the residence. Mr. Goldberg was taken to the police station and consented to a police interrogation. He later was released to his mother. Mr. Goldberg challenged the arrest as unlawful.

The court found that even if the detention rose to the level of an arrest when the defendant was transported to the police station it was proper. Probable cause exists where the police have reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a reasonable person to believe a particular person has committed or is committing an offense. Guzman v. State, 955 SW.2d at 87; Amores v. State, 816 SW.2d 407, 413 (Tex. Crim. App.1991). Probable cause deals with probabilities; it requires more than mere suspicion but far less evidence than that needed to support a conviction or even that needed to support a finding by a preponderance of the evidence. Guzman, 955 SW.2d at 87.