Reasonable suspicion is a term used to describe if a person has been or will be involved in a crime based on specific facts and circumstances. It may be used to justify an investigatory stop. Reasonable suspicion is more than a hunch that a crime has committed but does not require as much evidence as probable cause.
To evaluate reasonable suspicion, the court must decide if a reasonable person or reasonable officer would also infer that a person is involved in a crime were the circumstances the same.
The Supreme Court ruled in Terry V. Ohio that an individual may be stopped and frisked by law enforcement agents based on reasonable suspicion. The court found that this type of detainment (referred to as a Terry Stop) does not violate the Fourth Amendment, which restricts unreasonable search and seizure.
A person may not be arrested based on reasonable suspicion – an arrest is made based on probable cause. However, if probable cause develops during an investigatory stop, the officer may arrest the suspect.
When would an investigatory stop for reasonable suspicion be appropriate?
If a person was carrying around items that would be useful in committing a crime, the officer has reasonable suspicion to stop him or her. For example, a person carrying a wire hanger and looking into parked vehicles late at night may be seen as someone who is about to commit a crime. If an individual matches the description of a suspect, that may also be used a basis for reasonable suspicion.
Reasonable suspicion does not apply if a person simply refuses to answer questions or is of a certain ethnicity or race.
Probable cause is defined as a reasonable belief that an individual has, is, or will commit a crime. This belief must be based on facts, not a hunch or suspicion. To determine if there was probable cause, the court must find that a person with reasonable intelligence would believe that a crime was being committed under the same circumstances. Probable cause requires stronger evidence than reasonable suspicion.
Now, in Arizona, if a reasonable person “suspects” someone is here illegally, that person may be stopped, detained and question. What would constitute evidence of being here illegally? Speaking in a foreign language? Having dark skin?
But how does that give rise to a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed the crime of being here illegally? After all, don’t legal immigrants speak foreign languages, have dark skins, wear different clothing?
Now, in Arizona, people can be stopped on a mere hunch. Whites, who speak English, will be above suspicion. Not so for non-whites, especially latinos, or anyone with a foreign accent. Because now, for the first time, Reasonable Suspicion DOES apply if a person simply refuses to answer questions or is of a certain ethnicity or race.