What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

During a criminal procedure, reasonable suspicion is the ability to act based on suspicion. Police officers use this procedure to decide on whether they can perform a search based on factors that point toward criminal activity. For example, a police officer with a person of interest may need a search warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion to search that individual. Compared to the other two processes, acting on reasonable suspicion is the weakest approach. There is less reason to stop someone for reasonable suspicion compared to a search warrant, even though both methods don’t mean that someone is indicted for a crime. 

How Reasonable Suspicion Is Established

For stop and frisk situations, a police officer who believes that there is reasonable suspicion to stop someone must have evidence to support their logic. For example, they may suspect that there is a weapon and that the person poses a danger to others. However, this is still a gray area and can’t be solely based on a hunch. The police officer must see a clear reason pointing in this direction. In another example, someone that seems agitated and is threatening both physically and verbally is more suspicious than someone acting normal who is not bothering others. 

Because the officer thinks the subject is dangerous and armed, they can pat them down. 

Stopping someone under reasonable suspicion doesn’t mean that the person is detained or being interrogated. The individual isn’t required to provide identification but must provide a name. If the individual doesn’t seem to be a threat, the officer can ask that they stop and answer questions without any reasonable suspicion. Unlike probable cause, acting on reasonable suspicion doesn’t ascertain that the detainee is involved in criminal activity. There is no evidence supporting that fact, and they can’t be directly accused of any specific crimes. 

Vague Suspicion vs. Articulate Facts

Rather than a vague suspicion, it must be understood that there must be articulate facts that point toward an individual being suspicious. The person should be close to performing a criminal activity or had been recent, with factors around them pointing to these activities. A person can’t be arrested under reasonable suspicion. However, if evidence shows that the person was involved in criminal activity that is somehow uncovered, then the person can be arrested. An example is a police officer performing a traffic stop because an individual couldn’t stay in their lane. The officer may smell alcohol on the driver's breath and decide to search their car. On searching the vehicle, they found several open containers of alcohol and some knocked over in the car. 

The investigating officer may believe that the individual was drunk driving and could request a breathalyzer test. However, police officers can’t simply stop someone by using roadblocks unless their behavior is indiscriminate. They may stop every third vehicle, or all vehicles are stopped so that they are being neutral when stopping vehicles. Even though searching someone for reasonable suspicion is allowable, there are still ways that police officers are limited from abusing this process.