There are two definitions of suspicion that frequently occur in a legal context. One refers to suspicious conduct and the other refers to a reasonable suspicion. The terms are related but are not the same.

Suspicious Conduct

The most common use of the word suspicion refers suspicious conduct. In this context, suspicion refers to a belief or opinion based upon facts or circumstances that are not sufficient to constitute proof. This version of suspicion is often seen in the context of criminal records, where a person may be observed or arrested based on suspicion of involvement in criminal activity. If suspicion is not followed by any development in charges, then it is safe to assume that there was not sufficient evidence to support actual charges. On its own, a notation that a defendant was detained for suspicious activity or that the person was suspected of a particular crime is relatively meaningless. However, if a person’s criminal record contains multiple notations of suspicion, particularly notation of suspicion of the same or similar crimes occurring over extended periods of time, it may be indicative of a pattern of criminal behavior.

Reasonable Suspicion

The other common use of the word suspicion is in the term reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a standard of proof in United States criminal law. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause, the standard of proof required for arrests and warrants. While reasonable suspicion may not be sufficient for arrests and warrants, it can provide a basis for certain actions by law enforcement personnel. A reasonable suspicion is judged from the totality of the circumstances from the perspective of the reasonable person. A reasonable suspicion must be based on a specific person and can justify things like a search for weapons to ensure officer safety, but not a search for contraband or evidence of a crime.

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