Is Acting Nervous Probable Cause to Arrest Me?

by | Aug 30, 2021

Are you wondering if acting nervous is probable cause to arrest you? Check out the answer below:
No, acting nervous is not probable cause to search you. Also, acting nervous alone does not give police reasonable suspicion to stop you or to frisk you. Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard requiring police to have certain facts about criminal involvement that are more than “just a hunch.” In this blog post, we discuss the definition of probable cause, review a few examples, discuss a recent case featuring this issue, and how to get legal help if your acting nervous led to your arrest.

What Is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is another legal principle that gives meaning to your actions when interacting with the police. If a reasonable person would think that a crime has, would, or will be committed, then probable cause exists. Police can make an arrest or ask a judge for a search warrant when probable cause exists. Check out this article to read about an interesting 2008 case involving search warrants in Pennsylvania.

Examples of Probable Cause

In the abstract, it’s challenging to understand what actions may fall under probable cause. Here are a few examples to help:
  • Example 1. Matching an unusual physical description of a criminal suspect
  • Example 2. Leaving drugs or alcohol in plain sight during a traffic stop
  • Example 3. Having glassy eyes, slurred speech, and alcohol on your breath when pulled over by police

At-a-Glance: Commonwealth v. Buchert

Criminal lawyers in Philadelphia need to be aware of cases where police claim their clients appeared nervous and made furtive movements. A recent case on this issue is Commonwealth v. Buchert. In this case, the Court held that, during a nighttime car stop, police had reasonable suspicion to conduct a protective weapons search in the passenger area of a car where the passenger was seen reaching forward towards the area beneath his seat as police approached the vehicle, and he appeared extremely nervous.

At-a-Glance: Commonwealth v. Mattis

Criminal lawyers in Philadelphia also need to be aware of cases where police claim their clients appeared nervous, without other signs of criminal activity. The most recent case on this issue is Commonwealth v. Mattis (2021). In this case, the Court held that, during a car stop, police did not have reasonable suspicion to prolong a routine traffic stop and conduct an investigatory detention when the police only observed the driver as being extraordinarily nervous and fidgeting constantly. So, acting nervous, without more does not give police the right to stop you, hold you for an investigative detention, or prolong a car stop for a traffic violation to investigate you for a crime. If you enjoyed reading about the cases above, check out this article on Pennsylvania’s automatic companion rule.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

Acting nervous is not probable cause to arrest you, and police training may be an issue, as evidenced by this case. Update: In Commonwealth v. Buchert, the court held that moving around and reaching did give police probable cause, not acting nervous. You can read the update here.

Free Case Evaluation Now with a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

If your search and arrest involved you acting nervous, it’s possible that your rights were violated by police. Get in touch with our criminal defense team in PA at Shuttleworth Law PC for a Free Case Evaluation now by calling 215-774-1371, or send us a message here.
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