What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

May 5, 2024 | By Shane Phelps Law
What Is Reasonable Suspicion?
What Is Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that police officers must meet before stopping or detaining someone. It requires more than a mere hunch but less evidence than probable cause, which police need for an arrest or search warrant.

To establish reasonable suspicion, officers must observe specific facts or circumstances that suggest someone has, is, or will commit a crime. For example, if a driver speeds or swerves, an officer has reasonable suspicion to stop a driver and investigate further.

During the stop, if the officer finds evidence of a crime, such as the smell of alcohol or an open container, this establishes probable cause for an arrest. 

If the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop, the stop may suppress any evidence obtained during the stop, potentially leading to the dismissal of the case.

If you suspect that you were unlawfully stopped by the police, you may seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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What Is the Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause are two legal standards that justify different levels of police intrusion, but they often need clarification.

Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause. 

Reasonable suspicion allows police to stop and briefly detain someone for questioning, or to conduct a limited search, such as a pat-down for weapons.

Probable cause is a higher standard. It requires sufficient facts or evidence to lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime has been or is being committed. 

Probable cause allows police to make an arrest, obtain a search warrant, or conduct a more thorough search.

The main difference is the level of certainty required.

If an officer sees someone acting suspiciously near a closed business late at night, they may have reasonable suspicion to stop and question the individual. 

The officer can only arrest the person or search their belongings if they develop probable cause during the encounter, such as finding burglary tools or stolen property.

What Is a Terry Stop?

A Terry stop, or a stop and frisk, is a brief police detention and limited search based on reasonable suspicion. The name comes from the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which established the legal standard for this stop.

In Texas, police can conduct a Terry stop if they have specific, articulable facts that lead them to suspect a person is involved in criminal activity reasonably. The officer must be able to point to more than a mere hunch or gut feeling.

During a Terry stop, the officer can briefly detain the person for questioning and conduct a limited search or pat-down of their outer clothing for weapons. The purpose of the search is to ensure the officer’s safety, not to look for evidence of a crime.

The legal implications of a Terry stop are significant. If the officer has reasonable suspicion, evidence found during the stop may be used in court. If the officer lacks reasonable suspicion, the stop may be considered an illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and any evidence found may be excluded from trial.

Terry stops are controversial because they can lead to racial profiling and harassment of innocent people. Texas law prohibits racial profiling and requires officers to document the race or ethnicity of people they stop.

If police subject you to a Terry stop in Texas, you may remain silent and refuse a search of your belongings. You should comply with the officer’s orders and not resist or flee.

If you believe the police unlawfully stopped you, you can file a complaint with the police department or contact a criminal defense attorney.

What is Texas’s Exclusionary Rule?

Texas’s Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule is a legal principle prohibiting using evidence in court if it was obtained illegally or violated a person’s constitutional rights. 

If the police gather evidence through an unlawful search, seizure, or interrogation, the court may suppress it and not allow it to be presented at trial.

The purpose is to deter police misconduct and protect citizens’ rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. These rights include protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, self-incrimination, and the right to counsel.

Some exceptions to the exclusionary rule, such as the good faith exception, allow evidence to be admitted if the police reasonably relied on a search warrant that was later found invalid. 

Challenging Reasonable Suspicion Stops

An attorney protects your rights if police stopped or arrested you based on unreasonable suspicion. 

If the police lack reasonable suspicion to justify the stop, your attorney can challenge the validity of the stop and seek to have any evidence obtained excluded from the trial.

To challenge a stop based on reasonable suspicion, your attorney will file a motion to suppress evidence. At the hearing, your attorney will argue that the police did not have specific, articulable facts to support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. 

Your attorney may cross-examine the officer to highlight inconsistencies or weaknesses in their testimony.

If the judge agrees that the police lacked reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained from the stop will be excluded from trial under the exclusionary rule. The prosecution cannot use the evidence against you, which may lead to the dismissal of the charges.

Your attorney can also challenge the scope of a stop based on reasonable suspicion. Even if the initial stop was valid, your attorney may argue that the police exceeded the permissible scope by detaining you for too long or conducting an overly intrusive search.

If you believe your rights were violated, your attorney can file a complaint with the police department or a civil rights lawsuit. 

An attorney protects your rights and raises challenges promptly and effectively.

For more information about reasonable suspicion, contact us at Shane Phelps Law today at (979) 775-4100 for your free consultation.