Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

Reasonable Suspicion vs Probable Cause

There’s a big reason why the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” are often confused with each other. Being two different levels of suspicion, the two are frequently interchanged by mistake.

Under criminal law, “reasonable suspicion” is defined as “a lower level or standard of suspicion that can be understood as a type of double negation ‘it is not unreasonable if you suspect that…’” So any person with sound and reasonable thinking would come to suspect that a crime occurred (past), is occurring (present), or is about to occur soon (future). Because this is still in the suspicion level, a reasonable suspicion is described as being similar to a guess or a hunch.

Probable cause is different because it is a higher level of suspicion that is translated as being “more likely than not.” Thus, any reasonable and prudent individual will believe that a crime was, is, or will be committed. If there is probable cause, it must therefore be satisfied so that the suspect can be arrested. This would mean that a crime occurred and the said suspect is more likely than not the perpetrator. The suspect has the mental capacity, the obvious opportunity, and the capability to perform the crime under investigation.

The legal implication of the existence of a reasonable suspicion is for the police to frisk the suspect or even detain him temporarily. However, this does not give the authorities the right to issue an arrest or search warrant. Unlike the case of a reasonable suspicion, probable cause has more weight and will give the authorities the power to issue a warrant of arrest and also perform a search. Police officers can stop you then and there if they have reasonable suspicion, but they need to have probable cause (as supported by facts) so that they can finally arrest you.

Reasonable suspicion generally happens before its escalation into becoming probable cause. It’s like you’re still in stage one of the investigation if the situation is only within reasonable suspicion level. The crime moves further to stage two when it becomes more obvious. At this time, it is already within probable cause level.


1.Reasonable suspicion is more of a belief, guess, or suspicion while probable cause is more concrete and factual in nature.
2.Reasonable suspicion happens prior to probable cause.
3.You cannot issue a warrant for arrest if you only have a reasonable suspicion unlike in probable cause.
4.Probable cause is “more likely than not” while reasonable suspicion is “not being unreasonable for anyone to suspect that…”

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