Most people think a police officer needs “probable cause” to conduct a traffic stop, but an officer only requires “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over. Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard created by case law and discussed for the first time in 1968 in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). For a traffic stop to be lawful, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you either just committed a crime, you are committing a crime, or you are about to commit a crime. The officer’s reasonable suspicion must be based on articulable facts that tend to show criminal activity is afoot (an officer also needs reasonable suspicion to stop someone on the street or pat down a person they believe is armed).
For example, an officer merely saying “I had a feeling that the driver was committing a crime,” would not amount to reasonable suspicion. The officer has not articulated facts that support why the officer believed criminal activity was afoot. Contrarily, an officer saying “I had a feeling that the driver was committing a crime because I saw the driver did not have on a seatbelt,” would amount to reasonable suspicion. The officer has articulated why he believed the driver was committing a crime. The officer’s traffic stop would be unlawful in the former situation since it was not based on reasonable suspicion. On the other hand, the traffic stop based on failure to wear a seatbelt would be lawful.
Probable cause is a legal standard that was established by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is required to make an arrest, conduct a search, seize property, or obtain a warrant. It can be established by something an officer sees, hears, smells, or receives information about. Probable cause can also be based on witness testimony, records/recordings, or anything else that tends to show a crime may have been committed. It’s a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion in the sense that it requires more than just suspicion, but probable cause does not require anything near absolute certainty. The standard is mentioned in the Fourth Amendment, but it was not defined, so courts have been the sole source for defining probable cause over the years. Illinois v. Gates, 462 US 213 (1983), is a landmark case in the evolution of probable cause and search warrants, but probable cause is essentially evidence that provides a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed.
If an officer conducts a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, an arrest without probable cause, or a search without probable cause, then someone’s constitutional rights were probably violated. At that point, that person should retain an attorney to file pleadings with the appropriate court, either seeking their release, dismissing a criminal case, or financial compensation. There are many more benefits to hiring an attorney if you feel your rights have been violated, and you need to choose the right lawyer. Attorney Matthew Williams and the Law Office of Matthew Williams focus primarily on criminal defense and civil rights matters in the North Florida areas, such as Tallahassee and surrounding areas. They take pride in having a personal relationship with their clients. Attorney Williams treats his clients like family because he knows what they are dealing with is always more than just a case. He refuses to let law enforcement, state attorneys, or the criminal justice system stand in the way of getting his clients the justice they deserve. He obtains the best results for his clients, and he’ll do the same for you. Give the Law Office of Matthew Williams a call now.