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David D. Diamond State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist

Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts and inferences. It is the basis for an investigatory stop by the police and requires less evidence than probable cause, the legal requirement for arrests and warrants.

Probable cause refers to a state of facts that would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe and conscientiously entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the person arrested is guilty of a crime.

Probable cause is also required for a search to take place. Beware--a lack of probable cause does not become an issue if an Officer asks for your permission to search, and you say yes. It is essential that you understand you have the right to say no! Unlike with Miranda warnings, law enforcement does not have to inform you that you have the right to say no to a search. Giving police officers permission to search your person, home, or vehicle will not translate into their "taking it easy on you" if they do indeed find something. If probable cause for a search does not exist, and one is conducted, a criminal defense attorney may bring a successful motion to the judge to suppress any evidence found. By giving your permission to search, you lose this opportunity!