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What are "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion"?

Police officers have the authority to arrest people who they believe to be involved in a crime without a warrant. However, in order to do so, they must have "probable cause". This means that an officer can only arrest someone if the facts they possess would lead a reasonable person to believe that a person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.

Law enforcement officers also have the authority to temporarily detain those who they believe to be involved in criminal activity. This includes both pedestrian stops and car stops. Unlike an arrest, in order to stop and search a suspect the officer requires only "reasonable suspicion". This means that a person can be detained if the facts available to the officer would lead a reasonable person to think that the person has engaged, is engaging or is going to engage in criminal activity and that further investigation is required.

If a police officer wishes to search your home, they require either a warrant or your express permission to enter; however, if there is evidence of illegal behavior that can be seen from outside your property, this may count as probable cause for a search. similarly, if a police officer can see evidence of criminal activity, such as drug paraphernalia, in plain sight on your person, they have reasonable suspicion to detain you and conduct a search. Similarly, 

As the requirements for reasonable suspicion are less exacting than those for probable cause, it is often possible to argue in court that a stop and search was conducted illegally and infringed upon your rights. If a stop and search, a property seizure or an arrest is found by the court to be illegal, it cannot be used against a defendant in court due to the "exclusionary rule".

In any drug possession or weapons offense case, it is important to consult an experienced attorney who is able to determine whether the evidence against you was obtained legally and ensure that your rights are protected.

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