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Reasonable suspicion vs. probable cause: What is the difference?

On Behalf of | Aug 6, 2021 | Firm News |

While DUI checkpoints remain the exception to the rule, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over and investigate the situation. He or she must then have probable cause to make an arrest.

Many Tennessee residents are not familiar with their rights in regard to the “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” standards, and nor are most people aware of the differences. If you face DUI charges, it is important that you understand the two standards and how they apply to your case. FindLaw explores the differences between reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

Reasonable suspicion

The reasonable suspicion standard allows an officer to temporarily detain a person or motorist for the purposes of conducting a brief investigation and only if the said officer reasonably suspects that a crime has occurred. Types of reasonably suspicious behavior for which an officer may have stopped you include the following:

  • Swerving
  • Driving along the centerline
  • Driving erratically or far beneath the speed limit
  • Turning illegally
  • Breaking infrequently
  • Stopping in the middle of the road for no apparent reason

When an officer stops you for reasonably suspicious behavior, he or she may carry out typical DUI tests. These include a BAC test and a field sobriety test.

Probable cause

The probable cause standard is higher than the reasonable suspicion standard. Probable cause means that the officer gathered enough information during his or her brief investigation to conclude that you probably committed a crime. The officer must show probable cause to justify his or her arrest. Probable cause, in the context of a DUI arrest, may include the results from a breath or field sobriety test that point to your likely intoxication.

In conclusion, reasonable suspicion arises when an officer suspects that you might have committed a crime. Reasonable suspicion justifies a stop and brief investigation. Probable cause, on the other hand, justifies an arrest and arises when an officer has enough evidence to suggest that you likely committed a crime.