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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 said person in the same circumstances could reasonably believe a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity; such suspicion is not a mere hunch. Police may also, based solely on reasonable suspicion of a threat to safety, frisk a suspect for weapons, but not for contraband like drugs. A combination of particular facts, even if each is individually innocuous, can form the basis of reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is also sometimes called "arguable suspicion".



In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that a person can be stopped and frisked by a police officer based on a reasonable suspicion. Such a detention does not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizure. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada the court further established that a state may require, by law, that a person identify himself or herself to an officer during a stop. An arrest is not permitted based on reasonable suspicion; probable cause is required for an arrest. Further, a person is not required to answer any other questions during a Terry stop, and the detention must be brief. However if the officer's suspicions were correct and the situation escalates to a point of where the officer has probable cause, the officer can arrest the suspect.

Other Uses


New Jersey v. T. L. O. set the precedent that probable cause is not necessary to search a student; reasonable suspicion is enough to search a student's belongings. Overly intrusive searches, like a body cavity search, require probable cause.

Border Security, Customs, and Immigration

Although U.S. Customs can do routine suspicionless searches of people and effects crossing the border (including passing through airport customs), non-routine searches, like slashing the spare tire of a car, require reasonable suspicion. United States v. Flores-Montano. Anything even more intrusive, like compelled surgery of a suspected balloon swallower, requires probable cause. United States v. Montoya De Hernandez.


Courts have ruled (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). However, reasonable suspicion may not apply merely because a person refuses to answer questions, declines to allow a voluntary search, or is of a suspected race or ethnicity. At reasonable suspicion, you may be detained by a police officer (court officer on court grounds) for a short period of time and police can use force to detain you. If it is a violent crime (robbery, rape, gun run), the courts have recognized that an officers safety is paramount and have allowed for a "frisk" of the outermost garment from head to toe and for an officer to stop an individual at gun point if necessary. For a non-violent crime (shoplifting for example) an officer may frisk while at reasonable suspicion if he noticed a bulge in the waistband area, for example, but can frisk in that area only. In the city of New York, once a person is released in a reasonable suspicion stop, a "stop, question and frisk report" is filled out and filed in the command that the stop occurs.

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