The State's Responsibilities In Pursuing A Criminal Matter


Standing accused of wrongdoing or even being investigated in a matter can leave you feeling confused. How do you defend yourself when someone who works for the government says you may have committed a crime?

Fortunately, the government, generally referred to in court filings as "the state," has a number of responsibilities it must fulfill before it can take you to court and prosecute you. Let's take a look at those responsibilities in the way a criminal law attorney would.

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause

The public generally assumes that the standard for the police detaining a person or conducting a search is "probable cause." What does that mean, and is it the only standard?

First, probable cause is the idea that a certain set of facts supports a logical conclusion and that it follows that someone should investigate. If a cop sees an injured person on one side of the street and someone with a gun on the other side, there's probable cause to detain, question, and search the individual with the gun. Most sensible people would logically conclude that the police officer should at least investigate whether something happened.

Second, probable cause is not the only standard law enforcement may use to investigate a matter. The second standard is "reasonable suspicion." Reasonable suspicion is closer to a hunch than a logical conclusion. Let's say a person was driving a blue car in the vicinity of a place where a blue car was just seen going away from a robbery. It's not a logical conclusion that the person did something, but it's reasonable to detain them briefly to see how they behave and how they might respond to a few questions.

The big difference between the two is that probable cause allows more invasive investigative tactics. Reasonable suspicion only allows a brief detention, and then the person must be let go if probable cause cannot be established. A criminal law attorney will often question the basis of an initial stop for this reason.

Standard of Proof

Once charges have been filed, the state has a high clearing standard for proving that what it claims is true. This is often expressed as proving it "beyond a reasonable doubt." There must be no doubt that a crime happened, and there must also be no other logical conclusion that a reasonable person would come to other than that the defendant did commit the crime.


20 March 2019