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Is probable cause the same as reasonable suspicion?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2020 | Drug Crimes |

Drug crimes are a big deal and if you find yourself on the wrong end of a drug- or alcohol-related charge, it can feel like your future is on the line without any way to fight it. But there is an upheld standard to searches and checks. If law enforcement has unlawfully searched you or your property – illicit or not – there is a defensive argument to be made that may reduce any sentence leveled against you. 

An appeal filed in Tennessee courts from 2016 regarding a traffic stop details definitions regarding an officer’s right to stop you. An important term in this document is “constitutional muster”. If police cannot prove their stop can pass constitutional muster, it may be argued the stop itself was unlawful and any proceeding results cast into question. 

Probable cause exists when an officer observes the clear violation of law or evidence that suggests previous violation. For example, weaving unsafely into an oncoming traffic lane or running a red light is probable cause to pull you over. 

Reasonable suspicion exists when observed driver conduct does not violate statutes, but does warrant investigation. The appeals example includes weaving within your lane of traffic, driving under the speed limit, or engaging in long stops at stop signs. These are curious but not necessarily illegal and can be grounds to “legitimately initiate a brief, investigatory traffic stop”. 

It is common advice to remain civil, short and clear with any law enforcement that has stopped you. This speeds things along and also reduces the odds of a checkpoint leading to a search. Without lawful reason to stop you, any search may likewise be ruled unconstitutional.