The case under discussion was presented in 1968, where the Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark decision

Terry v Ohio (1968)

Joel Canton

Columbia Southern University

The case under discussion was presented in 1968, where the Supreme Court of the United States made a landmark decision. The Supreme Court passed a judgment that; the fourth amendment, which is for protecting citizens from being searched and seized without any police warranty, is not violated whenever a police officer subjects a suspect to search in the streets. The effect was that a police officer would search a person in the streets without any likely cause for arrest, if the police officer suspected that the person might be in the process of committing a crime, is likely to commit a crime, or has already committed a crime. The police can also search a person if they suspect that the person has a weapon in his possession and, therefore, dangerous to the public CITATION Ame95 l 1033 (America Civil Liberty Union, 1995). The suspicion must have a base on solid facts rather than on a personal hunch. The reasonable doubt should come from solid, reasonable, and specific facts. This action by the police is known as ‘stop and frisk’ or ‘Terry frisk.’ The court’s judgement argued that, the fourth amendment law was to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures with the aim of gathering evidence, rather than searches for the prevention of crime CITATION Jer11 l 1033 (Byellin, 2011).

On the 31st of October, a detective named Martin McFadden noticed that two men were studying a particular window on the street suspiciously. The two men were later identified as Richard Chilton and John W. Terry. The detective was famous for apprehending pickpocketers and arresting them. He noticed that the two men alternated in checking out the building through the same window although they used different routes. After each round, the two men would meet at the corner and discuss in low tones. The two men continued with the cycle for about five times. After doing the rounds, another man by the name Katz joined the duo, discussed something, and then left them. McFadden went after them for a few blocks, where they met again with the third man CITATION Leg92 l 1033 (Legal Information Institute, 1992).

The detective approached the men and informed them that he was a police officer, and requested for their names. The men did not tell him but rather mumbled incoherent words. At this point, the detective held Terry and discovered that he had a gun in his possession. He got out the gun and ordered the three men to turn around lifting their hands back up in their air where he could see them. He also removed a gun from Chilton’s pockets. He arrested the two men and left Katz since he did not have any weapon in his possession. Richard and Terry were charged with carrying concealed weapons CITATION Chi051 l 1033 (Chicage Kent College Of Law, 2005).

The lawyers of the suspects posited that the search was equal to violation of the fourth amendment law. The court, however, did not accept the prosecution’s argument that the aim of seizing the weapons was to stop a crime from happening. The court agreed that the guns were, however, reasonable evidence that the men were about to commit a crime. The court believed that the detective had the right to check their outer clothing because he had enough reason to believe that they were armed. The courts decision differentiated between an investigatory stop, and frisk for weapons. The two men were found guilty. This decision was further upheld by the Appellate court and the supreme court of Ohio CITATION Jer11 l 1033 (Byellin, 2011).

One judge said that the fourth amendment rule was meant to protect citizens and not places. The judge decided that Terry’s rights had been violated, but only to a certain extent. This was the opinion of Chief Justice Warren. The procedure commonly known as the terry frisk has elicited different reactions from different people CITATION Jer11 l 1033 (Byellin, 2011). Officers argue that they require some level of freedom when they are patrolling the streets, so that they can combat crimes effectively. However, some people feel that the police are not justified since they are likely to use the rule for their benefit, or that they may end up harassing innocent citizens. The court, however looked at the issue from a different viewpoint. It looked at the evidence that the police had presented to the court, and the exclusionary rule was given to the state police officers CITATION Leg92 l 1033 (Legal Information Institute, 1992).

In this case, the question of the court was if the exceptions that the police were given were not leeway for them to harass citizens; and not if the frisk was inappropriate. The judge commented that, in any case that required the use of the exception rule, all the limitations should be carefully thought out and considered. Complaints by the minority groups, Latinos and African Americans, who are commonly harassed by the police officers, will not be controlled if evidence is not used in court. If the rule is carried out without any concerns, people will end up being frustrated in the name of preventing crime. The rule is to be used sparingly to ensure that it is fair to the people and at the same time uphold morality in the society.

In order to address these concerns, the court observed that, it is not reasonable for a policeman to corner a person and subject them to search, unless there is a tangible reason to arrest a suspect. The court had the responsibility of determining what exactly is a search, and the time a person was being searched. The court did not agree that the Terry-frisk would constitute a search and seizure and, therefore, the fourth amendment did not fully apply to the citizen. However, court’s decision agreed that some police action could constitute a seizure. When the police arrested Terry, they seized him, and searched him. This is what the fourth amendment aims to protect. However, the fourth amendment only applies when the search is unreasonable. In essence, the court had a duty to decide if the seizure was unlawful CITATION Jer11 l 1033 (Byellin, 2011).

In sum, the court’s argument is comparable to the activity that would warrant an arrest. The police officer must provide facts and reasons why a person is being prosecuted. In a situation where there is a warrant of arrest, the police officer would be required to present the facts to the judge before searching and seizing the suspect CITATION Ame95 l 1033 (America Civil Liberty Union, 1995). A policeman’s hunch is not considered a reason enough to search and seize a citizen. If the police merely acted on their instincts, then the protection that the citizens are granted by the fourth amendment rule would be non-existent. The reason has to be in the best interest of the state, and must be towards prevention of crimes. It was necessary for the police to realize that, even though they may start out their searches with reasonable doubt, they may end up being illegal, owing to the intensity and coverage. All these conclusions led to the court believing that the detective was justified in frisking Terry CITATION Chi051 l 1033 (Chicage Kent College Of Law, 2005).


BIBLIOGRAPHY America Civil Liberty Union. (1995, October 31). Police Practices on the Docket. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from America Civil Liberty Union:

Byellin, J. (2011, June 10). Legal Research. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from Thomsons Reuters:

Chicage Kent College Of Law. (2005, July 2012). OYEZ. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from Chicago-Kent College of Law:

Legal Information Institute. (1992, January 14). Cornell University Law School. Retrieved June 13, 2014, from Legal Information Institute:

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