What Is Reasonable Suspicion And What Does It Allow the Police To Do?

Reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard than probable cause. A police officer has “reasonable suspicion” to stop someone if s/he obtains a reasonable belief that crime is afoot. What this means is that police must be able to articulate specific facts that caused the officer to reasonably believe that a crime had occurred, is occurring or is about to occur.

This is a “totality of the circumstances” test; under this test, courts focus on all of the circumstances of a particular case rather than any one factor. While reasonable suspicion is often subjective and considers many factors, reasonable suspicion cannot be based on a gut feeling or mere hunch.

What Are Some Examples of Reasonable Suspicion?

Again, it is important to note that no one factor is determinative for purposes of reasonable suspicion. But here are some common examples to demonstrate what may amount to reasonable suspicion:

  • Police may have reasonable suspicion to detain someone who fits a detailed description of a criminal suspect, who also happens to be in the area not long after the crime allegedly took place.
  • If it is late at night and a police officer observes a driver drifting from one lane to another, police may have reasonable suspicion that the driver may be under the influence and can make a traffic stop.
  • Police may have reasonable suspicion to detain a person in a high crime area who runs after seeing police approach him/her.
  • If a suspect drops a suspicious object (i.e. small plastic baggie containing a white, powdery substance) after seeing police, the police may have reasonable suspicion to detain that person.

Is Running A Vehicle’s License Plate and Learning That The Registered Owner’s License Has Been Revoked Enough, Alone, Enough To Constitute Reasonable Suspicion To Conduct A Traffic Stop?

On April 6, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) answered yes.

This issue came before SCOTUS in the case of Kansas v. Glover where police ran a license plate check on a pickup truck and discovered that the truck belonged to Mr. Glover. Realizing that Mr. Glover’s driver’s license had been revoked, police pulled the truck over. As it turned out, Mr. Glover was in fact driving the vehicle and was arrested for driving on a revoked license.

Mr. Glover argued that police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by pulling him over without having adequate reasonable suspicion of criminal activity afoot and the Kansas Supreme Court agreed. However, the case was brought before SCOTUS and the decision was reversed.

SCOTUS held that an officer in these circumstances has reasonable suspicion, so long as “the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle.”  Ultimately, this decision permits police officers to pull over a vehicle that is registered to a person whose driver’s license has been revoked based on the presumption that the owner of the vehicle is the person driving the vehicle—even if that does not turn out to be the case (i.e. if you let a friend or family member borrow your car).

However, this decision has its limits. For example, if a police officer has personal knowledge that the registered owner of a vehicle is in his/her early twenties but observes someone driving the vehicle that is in his/her late sixties, then the totality of the circumstances would not “raise . . . [reasonable] suspicion that the particular individual being stopped is engaged in wrongdoing”.

What Impact Could This Recent SCOTUS Decision Have In Rhode Island?

SCOTUS decisions are binding on all federal courts and on state courts regarding issues of the Constitution and federal law. In the case at bar, we are dealing with a Fourth Amendment issue—therefore, this decision is binding on Rhode Island courts as well (meaning that as of April 6, 2020, Rhode Island police are permitted to pull you over after running your plates and discovering your driver’s license has been revoked).

Questioning an Officer’s Reasonable Suspicion That Led to Your Arrest? Wondering If You Have Any Legal Recourse?

For more information, contact the skilled Rhode Island criminal defense attorneys at Abilheira Law today. Call us now 401-245-5100, or fill out our online form!