We recently wrote about probable cause being needed by a police officer in order to make a lawful arrest in Bowling Green, Kentucky. An officer lacking probable cause might still be able to stop, question and conduct a limited search of the outer clothing of a person based on a standard known as reasonable suspicion.
The concept of allowing police to stop a person on the street without having probable cause to make an arrest and file a felony or misdemeanor criminal charge was challenged as a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court carving out a limited exception to the requirement that law enforcement officers must possess probable cause in order to search or detain a person.
The Supreme Court recognized that situations might exist where a police officer might see or hear something that leads him or her to believe that criminal activity might be taking place. Reasonable suspicion is a belief, based upon the officer's observations combined with his or her training and experience, that further investigation is warranted.
Reasonable suspicion allows the officer to approach a person in a public place and engage that person in conversation designed to determine if criminal activity is, in fact, taking place. A criminal charge may result from a stop that originates with reasonable suspicion depending upon the information the officer gets from the person.
A police officer may, if the officer believes that the person being questioned might have a weapon, lightly pat down the person’s outer clothing. The pat down, or frisk, is solely for the officer to detect objects that feel like a knife, gun or other weapon. If the object does not feel like a weapon, a police officer may not reach into a person’s pocket without probable cause to search.
Street encounters between police and individuals are a daily occurrence. A criminal defense attorney might be of assistance to a person charged with a crime after being stopped by the police.