What constitutes reasonable suspicion?

The law provides a number of evidentiary burdens that must be met in order for the government to take action. Within the context of policing, reasonable suspicion is one of the most important concepts that law enforcement officers use while on patrol every day. It is also a significant constitutional law concept that triggers Fourth Amendment protections for individuals who are detained or searched by police. 

The concept of reasonable suspicion

This is an objective standard used to determine whether an officer has the authority to conduct a search. An officer must be able to articulate specific facts that would lead them to believe a crime has been or will be committed. This not reviewed from the standpoint of the officer’s personal feelings or motivations, but whether objective facts can be shown that would lead them to believe criminal activity is impending. 

Because the constitutionality of a stop and search is determined on a case by case basis by courts, there is no one specific doctrine that guides whether suspicion was reasonable or not. 

Terry stops

A stop to search someone is commonly referred to as a “Terry stop” in criminal procedure. This name comes from the U.S. Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio that dealt with a situation where an officer stopped and searched a suspect for a weapon, because the police felt he would engage in criminal activity. Police are given authority to briefly detain someone and investigate under the holding of this case, as long as they can show a valid reason. In the Terry case, the court held that the officers on the scene were allowed to stop and pat down the suspects, because they were armed and appeared to be ready to commit a robbery based on their behavior in the prior moments. 

If an officer is merely stopping someone and asking questions, this does not require reasonable suspicion, but the person is also free to leave because they are not formally being detained as part of a criminal investigation. 

Other reasons to search someone

If a police officer has a valid search warrant or probable cause to make an arrest, these factors are considered sufficient to give police the authority to search. They provide greater justification for the search than reasonable suspicion would on its own. 

Remedies for violations of the reasonable suspicion standard

When a criminal defense attorney reviews a case, they will look for illegal searches and seizures in the arrest documentation. If they believe that a search was conducted without a warrant or reasonable suspicion, they can file a motion to suppress that will cause all evidence found as the product of an illegal search to be excluded from the state’s case. In most cases, if a motion to suppress is granted by a judge, the case will be dismissed because the government will have little or no evidence left to use for the purposes of prosecution. 

Get help after improper police action 

There are attorneys available in your area who can assist you after a wrongful arrest, illegal search, or other problems with police brutality. Use the listings on USAttorneys.com to find an experienced legal professional near you.

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