Scales of justice statue

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause: What’s the Difference?

We’ve all heard the terms on cop shows and read them in articles on crime in Northern Virginia: probable cause and reasonable suspicion. What are they, and how do they differ from each other?

  • Reasonable suspicion is a reasonable presumption that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. It is a reasonable belief based on facts or circumstances and is informed by a police officer’s training and experience. Reasonable suspicion is seen as more than a guess or hunch but less than probable cause.

  • Probable cause is the logical belief, supported by facts and circumstances, that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.

The difference between the two terms is that probable cause means there is concrete evidence of a crime, whereas reasonable suspicion is open to broader interpretation. Reasonable suspicion indicates that it appears that a crime has been committed; the phrase often is used to justify investigation into suspicious behavior when a crime may have been committed.

When Do the Police Need Probable Cause?

The police need only reasonable suspicion to stop an individual and question him or her, and they may search for weapons if they believe that the person is armed or presents an imminent threat of bodily harm. Probable cause must exist for the police to be able to arrest someone or obtain a search warrant.

If you are arrested for committing a federal crime in Northern Virginia, you need a lawyer who has experience defending clients in federal court—one who will make sure that the investigators have followed the rules for evidence gathering and arrest. Call The Law Office of Ann Thayer at (703) 940-0001, and set up a FREE, immediate, no-obligation consultation.