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What Does the “Reasonable Suspicion” Standard Mean in Criminal Cases?

 Posted on June 23, 2023 in Criminal Defense

San Jose, CA criminal defense attorney for illegal police stopsIn order to make an arrest or conduct a search, police need to have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. However, before an officer can stop someone and conduct a brief search of their person or the immediate area surrounding the suspect, they need to have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime. The latter is a lower standard than the former. If you have been arrested based on this type of search, a criminal law attorney can review the circumstances of your case to help you determine whether the police had the legal right to stop and search you.

“Reasonable Suspicion” Is a Judge-Made Doctrine

You will not find any mention of the term “reasonable suspicion” in the United States Constitution. Like many aspects of criminal law (such as the “Miranda” warning that informs a person of their right to remain silent and their right to be represented by an attorney), reasonable suspicion finds its origin in a United States Supreme Court decision. In the case of Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court held that police could briefly detain a defendant and conduct a limited search if they had a reasonable suspicion of a crime. The Supreme Court said that this standard is “more than a hunch.” Based on this ruling, police routinely conduct “Terry stops,” which are also known as “stop and frisk.”

Terry Stops Are Often Used as a Pretext

Even though police do not necessarily have to meet a high standard, they often overstep their bounds during a Terry stop. Police may conduct an overbroad search. For example, they may search the trunk of a person’s car without probable cause, when all they are allowed to do is search the immediate area around the suspect to see if the person is armed. Stop and frisks are often conducted after profiling a suspect, but if these stops were based on factors such as a person’s race or appearance rather than a reasonable suspicion of a crime, they may be considered illegal.

The Consequences of a Terry Stop Violation

If you can prove that a Terry stop was conducted without reasonable suspicion, you may be able to have an arrest thrown out entirely, and the criminal case against you could be dismissed. In these situations, you will need to provide evidence to show that police did not have a valid justification to detain you.

Contact a Santa Clara County Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The Fuller Law Firm can help stand up for your legal rights if the police acted illegally in the course of an arrest or search. Our San Jose criminal defense lawyer can review your case to help you determine the best defense strategies that may be used to address the charges against you. Call us today at 408-234-7563 to schedule your free initial consultation. 



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