Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

Terminology to Know

The Fourth Amendment
protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.  However, there is often a lot of confusion about what makes a search or seizure “reasonable” or not.


A “search” means that an officer has physically patted down a person and literally searched the inside of a building or object. In general, an officer needs probable cause to obtain a search warrant and then conduct a search.  By definition, probable cause means “more likely than not.”

Sniff Search

A sniff search is when a police canine uses his nose to sniff out drugs, or other controlled substances. It should be noted that a “sniff search” by a police dog is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment.  A positive alert from a police dog almost always gives an officer probable cause to search what the dog alerted to.


A “seizure” means that the officer is temporarily confiscating a person’s property.  Often the purpose of a seizure is to conduct “investigative detention.”

Probable Cuause


However, an officer does not need probable cause to conduct investigative detention.  Instead, an officer must have reasonable suspicion, a lower standard than probable cause, to conduct investigative detention.

If any contraband is in plain sight of an officer or a crime is being committed in his or her presence, he or she automatically has probable cause.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is not a “bright-line” test; that is, there is no rigid rule or formula.  Instead, reasonable suspicion is considered in the totality of the circumstances.  A court will consider all of the material factors when considering if an officer’s suspicion was reasonable, and the officer must be able to articulate specifically why his or her suspicion was reasonable.

Reasonable Suspsicion or Not?

Factors courts will consider when deciding if an officer had reasonable suspicion or not includes;

  • Lying to the officer,
  • Trying to conceal belongings,
  • Running from police.

Other facts such as nervousness and traveling to or from a known drug hub will be given some consideration but will be given much less weight because they are not objectively suspicious.

For more information, read on here.

Need Help?

If you are in need of legal support, call George B. Morton with Morton Law at 479-587-9988. Arkansas’s best Criminal Law Experts in the Fayetteville, Springdale, and Washington County areas.

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