Discussion responses

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause 306/Dis1

Original Discussion Question:

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Knowing the distinctions between reasonable suspicion and probable cause are essential, foundational aspects of criminal justice, just as mens rea and actus reus were in your studies last week. Reasonable suspicion is an objective belief by an officer that an investigation needs to be conducted into a potential crime. Probable cause is the standard required for arrest. Keep these distinctions clear in this week’s presentations and in your criminal justice career. Support your claims with examples from the required materials and/or other scholarly resources, and properly cite any references. Your initial post must be at least 300 words in length.

Two commonly confused concepts in criminal law are reasonable suspicion and probable cause. In your post,

  • Define and evaluate both of these significant legal terms, and utilize pertinent U.S. Supreme Court opinions to justify your answers.
  • Address what happens in court to a criminal case when an officer does not possess reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Guided Response: Respond to at least two of your classmates’ posts by Day 7. Examine why there are differing standards for a reasonable suspicion to stop and for probable cause. How do these legal terms relate to peoples’ constitutional protections?

*Here is the first classmate to respond to. This is not to critique their work. More so just to discuss further on the subject following what they said.

Brent Dillard

The two terms reasonable suspicion and probable cause are both different criminal law terms, but both are protected under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”(www.gpo.gov). This gives citizens the right refuse searches unless there is probable cause. Reasonable suspicion would be if an officer witnesses some type of suspicious activity, this would allow for an officer to keep investigating either a vehicle, or individual. An example of reasonable suspicion could range from a numerous amount of things, for instance the smell of marijuana, drug paraphernalia in plain view, could be as small as heavy breathy or nervous behavior.

Now that an officer has reasonable suspicion to investigate further this leads to the second criminal law term probable cause. The level of reasonable suspicion for the officer to keep investigating is really based on the officer’s knowledge and experience. For instance, “This level of proof is applied to police officers and not private citizens. Officers may rely upon their training, experience, and understanding of criminal behavior to come to their conclusion” (11.1). After having reasonable suspicion this means an officer can conduct a search, seize something or make an arrest. If an officer does not have a valid reasonable suspicion then anything found during a search or seizure can be thrown out in court. An example would be if an officer pulls a car over just because that officer has dealt with the individual driving the car and has been previously arrested for soliciting drugs. There has to be a valid reason to pull them over and probable cause to arrest them.

Second student: Christopher Williams

Reasonable suspicion are facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable police officer to believe that criminal activity is afoot (Wright, 2013).It is also an objective belief that an investigation needs to be conducted into a potential crime (Wright, 2013).For example, in chapter 11 of our text, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S.1 case (1968), Detective McFadden initiated the 7-step procedure of “Stop and Frisk”.These steps are having reasonable suspicion after, identifying yourself as a police officer, stopping the suspect, general inquiry, if fear is not dispelled, frisk for weapons (pat down of clothing to determine if a weapon is present), if weapons are found, then search.Probable cause is required, too, in those exceptions to be discussed in which arrest, search, and seizure are permitted without a warrant (Reid, 1993).For instance, probable cause is facts enough to lead a reasonable individual to conclude that a crime has being committed.Another example who be a police making a routine traffic stop to advise a driver he or she was speeding.During this process, the officer notices that the driver has drug paraphilia on the passenger seat in plain view as well as a strong odor of crack smoke.This would be an example of probable cause and to make a legal arrest and to search the vehicle without a warrant.Also, The Fourth Amendment requires that “No Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”.If a person grants police permission to search his or her property, the extent or scope of the search depends on either how the police presented the question or how it was answered (Wright, R., 2013).

From my understanding from chapter 11, one of the steps which is to frisk, can be misunderstood.Frisking is the pat down of clothing to determine if a weapon is present on the suspect (Wright, 2013).The Supreme Court ruled that when an officer determined there was no weapon on the suspect, they could not continue to manipulate the frisk further for contraband, unless it was plain in view.The Supreme Court also determined that drug check points violated the Fourth Amendment because it served the interested of general crime and not public safety (Wright, 2013).

If an officer in a criminal case does not possess reasonable suspicion or probable cause, then their evidence could be inadmissible in court, possibly pending no charges due to the violation of the Fourth Amendment.An illegal search and seizure may be criminally actionable and officers undertaking one thus subject to prosecution.

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