Does law enforcement need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to question someone?

UPDATED: Jun 7, 2011

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Does law enforcement need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to question someone?

Two people are sitting in a car in a public park’s parking lot, eating lunch (at 1 pm) and doing paperwork. Law enforcement drives into the park and stops behind the previously noted couple’s car, blocking them in. A deputy then approaches the car, asking for ID. Once identified, the deputy learns both are probationers with 4-way search clauses so he executes a search of both people and their car, finding drugs and paraphernalia. The pair is arrested. The police report says they approached because “the suspect’s car was parked in 2 spaces” (which is untrue). Is there a suppression chance here?

Asked on June 7, 2011 under Criminal Law, California


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

In the absence of a search warrant there is probable cause.  Probable cause is a standard considerably lower than certainty.  It has been held that the searching officer need only reasonably believe that evidence of a crime exists in the place to be searched.  Certain exigent circumstances may also allow searches without satisfaction of probable cause.  The facts as you have stated here in your question give rise to questions on whether or not the search was valid.  Any evidence that is recovered from a search held to be invalid is, as you know, inadmissible.  I would speak with your attorney especially given the issue of probation and multiple offender laws. 

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