Probable Cause VS. Reasonable Suspicion: Everything You Need To Know

Probable Cause VS. Reasonable Suspicion: Everything You Need To Know


Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion are often conflated, but these two actions are not interchangeable. However, they may both be used to describe the same actions by police officers. When this occurs, it is essential to understand what they both mean. Furthermore, it is crucial to understand the differences.

It is additionally significant to see how these two actions are used in everyday police work; let's look.

Table Of Contents:

What Is The Probable Cause?

Probable cause is a legitimate standard that should be met when police officers conduct an arrest or seek an arrest warrant. When probable cause is completed, the officer may pursue an arrest or seek an arrest warrant. 

The principle behind probable cause is that a police officer may only pursue an arrest at the point when wrongdoing has been perpetrated, wrongdoing has been initially suspected, and the officer has identified a crime.

The process for determining the probable cause is not always straightforward. It can be challenging to determine sufficient evidence to meet the standard of probable cause. In many cases, reasonable suspicion would be adequate. 

Additionally, the probable cause needs to be determined before any arrest or even before an arrest warrant has been issued. The process of determining probable cause must occur before any action. 

It ensures that arrests are only made when there is enough evidence to merit this type of action by officers (law enforcement). For instance, if police officers intended to detain a suspect without an arrest warrant, they would need to determine probable cause for this action.

Finally, the probable cause must be based on available evidence when the decision to pursue an arrest is made. It means that police officers cannot wait until after an arrest has been made to determine what evidence is available. 

The point of determining probable cause is so that law enforcement officers can decide whether or not they will pursue an arrest warrant, while this process occurs before any arrests are made.

However, the shortcoming of probable cause is that it does not provide a definite reason for police action. It only determines if the police officers have enough evidence for an arrest or warrant.

What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is different from probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is based on police officers' assessment of facts and circumstances present when conducting their investigation. 

The act of reasonable suspicion occurs after an officer has made an initial decision to pursue some action or action that may lead to some action or arrest. Reasonable suspicion does not necessarily apply to the crime itself. 

It can be determined that there is reasonable suspicion, even if this is not based on any identified crime. For example, a police officer can have reasonable suspicion that a store owner is engaged in illegal activity but cannot prove that the store owner has committed a crime. 

The point is that a police officer can investigate potential criminal activity even if no crime has been identified. The standard of reasonable suspicion is based not just on evidence but also on facts. Therefore, there must be facts upon which the suspicion has been formed.

Reasonable suspicion gives a police officer a starting point for making a decision. This type of action allows police officers to pursue some action or course without determining if they can find probable cause.

In most situations, reasonable suspicion can be determined by police officers without any investigation at all. When this occurs, there is a significant difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion. 

However, the shortcoming of reasonable suspicion is that it does not necessarily lead to an arrest. In fact, most reasonable suspicions do not lead police officers to make an arrest. In some instances, the police officer may determine that enough evidence leads them to reasonable suspicion. 

All About Probable Cause Hearing

A probable cause hearing is a process by which a judge decides whether or not there is enough evidence to show that there was probable cause for an arrest or an arrest warrant. The police officer must find sufficient evidence that supports the action they have taken. 

The evidence must clearly show that there was sufficient reason for any police action. In some instances, a judge may determine insufficient evidence for a police officer to take action and deny the arrest or prevent them from issuing an arrest warrant. The case will be dismissed and therefore not prosecuted by the state's attorney's office. 

Furthermore, the justification of arrest is determined by the court after a probable cause hearing. The case can be tried in court if the judge decides probable cause for an arrest or an arrest warrant. 

The evidence must also show no evidence of unreasonable delay (or no unnecessary delay) before making an arrest. 

What Is Unreasonable Delay?

Much of the time, there is no genuine explanation for an arrest to be delayed. In most cases, this means that the delay must be explained by a reasonable explanation, such as a police officer's mistake, a delay caused by an emergency or emergency call, or some other factor or circumstance which can justify the time frame through which an arrest happens. 

For example, if a suspect is being accused of burglary and officers have initiated their search of his residence, there is no reasonable delay in arresting him at this point.

What Happens After A Probable Cause Hearing?

After the probable cause hearing, the judge will decide whether or not there was enough evidence to show that there was probable cause. If so, the judge will go on to address the next step of the criminal process. 

For the most part, the appointed authority will put together their choice concerning the following factors:

  • The strength of the evidence;
  • The nature of the supposed offense (or that it is a crime);
  • The potential for danger or harm;
  • Whether there was an unreasonable delay (or no necessary delay) in the police action; and 
  • Whether there was any other reason for arresting this person.
  • If there is lacking proof to demonstrate reasonable justification, then this may mean that the defendant had no legal grounds for his arrest. The defendant may then sue the officers for false arrest or excessive force.

Top 'Probable Causes' For Drug Testing

The probable cause for a drug test is based on a thorough investigation by a police officer. After determining that there is a suspicion that the person had been using drugs, the officers will use this as one of several factors to determine whether or not they can make an arrest.

Therefore, various other factors in determining whether or not a police officer can arrest are:

  1. Proof that the individual was impaired at the time of driving or performing usually.
  2. Evidence that the person is currently under the influence of illegal drugs.
  3. Evidence that drug use could be related to impairment in any way, including poor job performance or poor school performance.
  4. Evidence that drug use could cause any danger to anyone else or oneself.
  5. Evidence that using drugs could be a crime if not for some exemption, such as religious or medical reasons. 
  6. Evidence that drug use could trigger a violation of some other law, such as the law against driving under the influence.
  7. Evidence that drug use could be related to a safe condition, such as epilepsy or heart disease.

However, in other cases, police officers may arrest after an initial drug test has been taken and the results are inconclusive. The appointed authority will then, at that point, decide if this is enough evidence to justify the arrest. 

Once the police officer has established probable cause to make an arrest, they will start the arrest warrant process. 

Top 'Reasonable Suspicion' For Drug Testing

Reasonable suspicion for drug testing is similar to probable cause. In both cases, a police officer will decide based on a thorough investigation of the suspect. In addition, the arrest is only made after reviewing various other factors that would indicate that there was reasonable suspicion for making an arrest.

Reasonable suspicion is also based on a deliberate and careful police investigation into a suspect's actions and possible crimes. For this reason, a police officer will typically conduct an active investigation rather than waiting for a time when the suspect could be tested for drug use. 

Some factors that a police officer would consider before making an arrest include:

  • Physical signs:
    • The person is obviously under the influence; 
    • The person has loss of balance or is unable to stand;
    • The person has bloodshot eyes, watery eyes, dilated pupils, or reddened eyes; 
    • The person is sweating noticeably 
  • Behavioral signs:
    • The person's speech is slurred or unsteady, or is incoherent;
    • The person is acting atypically, such as the person being aggressive. 
  • Psychological signs:
    • The person is evasive or is giving evasive answers to questions;
    • The person appears nervous, especially if the person is sweating, blushing, and seems anxious
    • The person seems indifferent and can't be easily provoked.

    Other factors that a police officer will consider in making an arrest are the person's mental state, appearance, and situation. Suppose the person is obviously under the influence of illegal drugs or has obvious signs of drug use. In that case, this could be enough evidence to establish reasonable suspicion to make an arrest. 

    Suppose the person has been using drugs for personal use or with legal exemption but is not currently influenced by any drug or alcohol. In that case, this could be enough evidence to establish reasonable suspicion to make an arrest. 

    Therefore, officers need to make sure that there has been a deliberate and careful police investigation before making an arrest. After determining whether or not an arrest can be made, the police then proceed with the arrest warrant process.


    A police officer may arrest after determining that there is enough evidence to proceed with the arrest. It is typically either by stating that there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion. 

    Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are made based on a thorough investigation, and police officers will think about different factors in deciding if they can proceed with an arrest. 

    However, in many cases, a police officer will be arrested after conducting a drug test, resulting in an inconclusive result. In these cases, it is up to the judge to determine whether or not the evidence is enough to justify the arrest.


    Why is probable cause necessary for a drug test?

    If there is no probable cause, then there are no legal grounds for a police officer to make an arrest. 

    Can a police officer arrest without probable cause?

    In most cases, a police officer will conduct a thorough investigation based on various factors before making an arrest. However, a police officer may have probable cause to arrest after completing a drug test in some cases, and the results are inconclusive. It is dependent upon the appointed authority to decide if this is enough evidence for the officer to justify the arrest.

    Is there any other factor that can be used for probable cause?

    Yes. Other factors can be used for probable cause. However, these factors are specific to the situation at hand. For this reason, it is essential for officers to carefully investigate the person before making an arrest based on probable cause.

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