Few things can be more unsettling than facing criminal charges. Even merely interacting with an officer may make you feel uneasy, especially if you believe you may be a suspect in a criminal investigation. Still, the U.S. Constitution affords you some fundamental rights throughout the criminal justice process.
There are two important legal concepts that Texans often confuse: reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Nevertheless, because these concepts are critical to your rights, you should understand their differences.
Reasonable suspicion is the standard officers use to briefly detain individuals. This comparatively low legal standard means an officer’s common sense tells him or her someone may have committed a crime or be in the process of committing one.
For example, if you are swerving or driving erratically, officers may have reasonable suspicion you are driving while intoxicated. Officers typically need reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle or frisk you. Generally, officers must not advise you of your Miranda rights when they only have reasonable suspicion.
Probable cause is a higher legal standard. For officers to have probable cause, they must have evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe a violation of the law has occurred, is occurring or will occur.
Before searching your vehicle or arresting you, officers typically need probable cause. If they intend to interrogate you when you are in police custody, they must inform you of your right to remain silent and your right to have legal counsel.
Ultimately, if officers act without the requisite reasonable suspicion or probable cause, you may have a straightforward way to seek a dismissal of your criminal charges.