To be searched, one knows that the officer must have reasonable suspicion. It is part of our rights as American citizens. But what does reasonable suspicion mean exactly and how did the term come about?
By definition, reasonable suspicion is “a legal standard in United States law that a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts and inferences. It is the basis for an investigatory or Terry stop by the police and requires less evidence than probable cause, the legal requirement for arrests and warrants.”
Reasonable suspicion is evaluated using the “reasonable person” or “reasonable officer” standard, in which there must be reason to believe a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. With reasonable suspicion, a police officer may frisk a suspect for weapons if that officer feels a threat of safety. The officer cannot search for contraband like drugs. Reasonable suspicion is also sometimes called “arguable suspicion”.
The term reasonable suspicion traces its roots back to the Fourth Amendment, which says American citizens are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. What this means is that an officer must first obtain a warrant from a judge or magistrate that is based upon probable cause that the search will yield evidence of crime, or that the person to be arrested is guilty of a crime. A search or seizure without a warrant that is backed by probable cause is presumptively an “unreasonable” search or seizure.
Because the Fourth Amendment does not literally require warrants, or even probable cause, for every search and seizure, some cases are upheld for warrantless searches and seizures.
The federal case, U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 landmark decision in Terry v. Ohio, helped define reasonable suspicion even further. In this Supreme Court case, the Court ruled that a police officer may “stop and frisk” a suspect if the officer observes “articulable facts” that make it “reasonable to assume” that the suspect is armed and dangerous. This standard is less demanding than the “probable cause” that is needed for a full arrest because the nature of the intrusion–a brief stop and a weapons pat-down–is less serious than with an arrest.
Courts also ruled in (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)) that a stop on reasonable suspicion may be appropriate in the following cases: when a person possesses many unusual items which would be useful in a crime like a wire hanger and is looking into car windows at 2am, when a person matches a description of a suspect given by another police officer over department radio, or when a person runs away at the sight of police officers who are at common law right of inquiry (founded suspicion). Where the line is drawn and an officer cannot declare reasonable suspicion is when a person refuses to answer questions, declines to allow a voluntary search, or is of a suspected race or ethnicity.
With reasonable suspicion, a police officer may detain you for a short period of time and can use force to detain you. Force is only typically used if the officer’s safety is paramount, such as cases of violent crimes (robbery, rape, gun run). For a non-violent crime (shoplifting for example) an officer may frisk you, but if that officer suspects a weapon on your person, they now have reasonable suspicion and can frisk in that area only.
Steven Medvin is the Executive Director of SMP Advance Funding, LLC, which provides lawsuit funding to individuals who need a lawsuit loan for pending lawsuits. For more information please visit: http://www.smpadvance.com.