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Crime.Justice & America - Ask a Lawyer - What is Reasonable Suspicion? by Keith Jordan

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 What is Reasonable Suspicion? by Keith Jordan

What is Reasonable Suspicion? 

by Keith Jordan

Have you ever wondered how an officer can pull you over when you're driving along minding your own business? How about stopping you when you're walking down the street? If you want to know what they can do to you legally and how to avoid getting detained and arrested, then read on.

For any government employee, such as a cop, to "stop" you for a law enforcement purpose (crime investigation), they have to have a reason to think you may have committed, or be in the process of committing, a crime.

It's called "reasonable suspicion." It has to be more than a hunch that you're up to something and they have to point to something you were doing that looked criminal in nature.

So, let's say you're walking down the street and you're high and walking like a zombie, the cop can say "I thought the subject might be under the influence and in danger of hurting him or her self." That gives the officer a shot at stopping you to conduct further investigation.

Another common occurrence is being pulled over while driving since most of us drive. If the officer sees you weaving, driving too fast, too slow, etc, he can pull you over for the traffic stop, and then do further investigation if you smell of alcohol, or you don't have a license and so on.

Many of my clients say, "that cop pulled me over for speeding and then arrested me for having drugs in the car and he didn't even give me a speeding ticket." That is legal! If you've got a dead body in the trunk, they won't bother with that left turn without a signal.

And that brings me to another point. You have to keep your car in good running order. Keep your registration tags current; you rear license plate lamp working; no cracks in your windshield; license plates clear and unobstructed. Why, you ask? Because an officer can use that as a legal excuse to pull you over and find some reason to search the car. We used to call it a "pretext stop."

That means, the officer had no good reason to pull you over, but found your rear license plate lamp was out, let's say. He'd stop you and then try to find something on you. Now, the law says that's legal so long as the officer had a legitimate traffic or vehicle safety reason to pull you over.

So, all the officer needs is "reasonable suspicion" to stop you. The legal word for it is detention. That just means that you had to yield to the officer's authority and you did not feel free to leave and terminate the encounter.

If they're going to arrest you, they need more than reasonable suspicion.

The officer must have probable cause to suspect you've committed a crime.

For the "under the influence" people, that can be sweating, out of breath, can't stand still, rapid pulse, eyes dilated, and so on. This will stick even if he stopped you on a bike or running for a bus. The cop can be wrong just so long as he saw something in his or her investigation that could be reasonably interpreted to criminal in nature.

If they think you've committed a crime, they will arrest you or at least, site and release you with a notice to go to court. But remember, you have a 4th Amendment right to privacy. You don't have to consent to anything if you don't want. That doesn't mean put up a fight because you'll just wind up with a resisting arrest charge.

What I mean is, if an officer says, "do you mind if I search your trunk, your bag?," you can legally say no. If they have a warrant, that's a different story.

In the end, don't leave the house if you've been drinking or partying, and obey the traffic laws and keep those registration tags current.

If you feel like you're being detained, ask "am I free to leave or are you ordering me to to stop and talk to you, because I don't really feel like talking." At least this forces the issue and makes the officer take a stand or leave you alone. You do have constitutional rights and don't be afraid to assert them. This is, after all, the United States.

This entry was posted in Ask a Lawyer.
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