What is Reasonable Suspicion?
The law is clear and established under our constitution: a police officer cannot stop you and hold you unless the officer has what is known as “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed, or that you have broken a law.
What is Reasonable Suspicion?
Reasonable suspicion is the first step before getting to probable cause, which, if probable cause exists, allows an officer (under certain conditions) to conduct searches or seizures. Reasonable suspicion requires less proof than probable cause does. In other words, the officer needs “less of a reason” to detain you under reasonable suspicion.
Reasonable suspicion by itself does not allow a police officer to conduct searches or seize property (that requires probable cause). However, officers may conduct “pat downs,” to ensure that the suspect is not carrying weapons. An officer can also ask you to identify yourself with reasonable suspicion, but cannot go beyond that by interrogating you. An officer can also use a contraband-sniffing dog to sniff the exterior of your car as long as there is reasonable suspicion, so long as the wait for the dog unit to arrive is not unnecessarily prolonged.
Reasonable suspicion can turn into probable cause. For example, while patting you down for weapons, the officer may feel a gun in your pocket. Feeling the gun would provide the probable cause to conduct a full search and seizure (and possibly, grounds for arrest).
When Reasonable Suspicion Exists
Sometimes, reasonable suspicion is obvious. For example, if you are speeding, there is more than reasonable suspicion, there is an actual, demonstrable legal violation. Other times, reasonable suspicion is a bit murkier. For example, if a car alarm goes off and you are seen running away from the car, the officer may be able to at least detain you.
Some courts have held that if you match the description of a known suspect in a given area, police can temporarily detain you under reasonable suspicion. If you are seen with an item that by itself is legal, but the item could be used in the commission of a crime (for example, a wire hanger that could open a locked door, or a rag and a canister of flammable alcohol), reasonable suspicion may exist.
An officer can be wrong about reasonable suspicion, but still get the probable cause needed to conduct a search. For example, there is a “be on the lookout” for a suspect driving a black truck. The police stop you, but you are driving a dark blue truck. As you are stopped, the police notice drugs in your car, and arrest you.
Although the original stop was in error—the police mistakenly thought you were in a black truck—the stop was objectively reasonable, making it valid. That means that whatever they find as a result of the stop—in this case, drugs—can be used as evidence against you.
Have you been arrested or are you facing criminal charges? Contact the Miami criminal attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today with any questions you may have.