Terry v. Ohio

Terryv. Ohio

Terryv. Ohio

Thecase of Terryv. Ohioinvolved a detective from the Police Department of Cleveland, who sawtwo men acting suspiciously in Euclid Avenue. The two men wereRichard Chilton and John Terry. Their back and forth movementmotivated the detective to interrogate, search, and eventually arrestthem after discovering that they were armed (U.S. Supreme Court,2016). The case of Terryv. Ohiofocused on the analysis of the consistency of the detective’saction with the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. The trial courtagreed that the detective had acted within the provisions of theconstitution. The detective’s compliance with the laws in theentire process of searching and arresting Terry and other menqualified the gun that was recovered from him to be considered asadmissible evidence. Terry made an appeal to contest theconstitutionality of the detective’s conduct. However, the SupremeCourt refused to consider the appeal as a substantial constitutionalmatter. This paper will provide the analysis the court case byanswering six questions as considered below.

Question1: Five key aspects of the case

Thereare several aspects considered in the case of Terryv. Ohio,but five of them are more significant. The first aspect is privacy,where the court was expected to determine whether the searchconducted by the detective, McFadden, violated the rights of Terryand other men. Secondly, the case addressed the aspect of search andseize. The judges argued about the constitutionality of the conductof the detective, where he stopped Terry and other men beforesearching for guns (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016). The third aspectincluded in the case is the concept of probable cause. The courtaddressed the constitutionality of the detective’s decision tostop, search, and arrest Terry and his colleagues. The fourth aspectaddressed in the case is reasonable suspicion. This issue was raisedby Justice Douglass, who argued that McFadden’s reasonablesuspicion did not meet the definition of probable cause as providedin the constitution. Lastly, the cases focused on the issue of thetotality of circumstances.

Question2: Violation of the right to privacy

Thelaw enforcement officer, Martin McFadden, did not violate Terry’srights as provided in the Fourth Amendment. It is justifiable tostate that Terry, similar to other citizens, had the right to beprotected in his person, papers, house, and effects from unreasonableseize and search since that is an undisputed constitutional right(U.S. Supreme Court, 2016). However, the Fourth Amendment includes anexclusionary rule that allows the law enforcement officers to seizesuspects without a warrant. According to the amendment, the lawenforcers are permitted to balance between the level of intrusion andthe need to enhance special needs as well as the governmentinterests, such as the public safety (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016).

Basedon the exclusionary provision provided by the amendment, there aretwo major facts suggesting that the officer acted within the law.First, the officer had the duty to protect the interests of thepublic (including the security of the people operating businesses inEuclid Avenue), which created a probable cause for search and seize.Although the issue of “probable cause&quot is contentious, theofficer had a working experience of about 35 years in the samevicinity, which suggests that he had sufficient knowledge to detectindividuals with the wrong intentions. In addition, a decision to patdown Terry and his colleagues can be justified by the fact that thedetective had the reason to believe that they were armed. This factimplies that the detective conducted himself in a manner that aimedto protect the public. Therefore, the right to privacy was notinfringed.

Secondly,an objective assessment shows that the method and level of intrusionwere reasonable and consistent with the provisions of theconstitution. For example, the officer started by introducing himselfand only decided to search Terry and other men after suspecting thatthey could be armed. The search and frisking were reasonable becausethey caused petty indignity and a minor inconvenience. From the caseproceedings, McFadden did not put his hands under the suspects’garment until when he felt the gun (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016).Therefore, the officer started with a harmless interrogation, decidedto frisk Terry as well as his colleagues after observing theirreaction, and then made a lawful arrest after determining withcertainty that they were armed. In overall, the detective acted inthe interest of the public security and effective enforcement of law,which implies that the right to privacy was not violated.

Question3: Dissenting opinion made by Justice Douglas

Theprobable cause is the basic requirement that is provided by theFourth Amendment and it should be met before a law enforcer canobtain a warrant, arrest, or search a suspect. However, thedissenting ruling issued by Justice Douglas is a proof that theconcept of “probable cause” is still controversial. Thestakeholders in the criminal justice system agree that a probablecause should exist before a law enforcement agent decides to engagein search or arrest people. However, their opinions differ on thebasis of the level of suspicion that should be considered as havingmet the constitutional threshold for probable cause. For example,Justice Douglas held that the argument raised by officer McFaddencould not convince a magistrate to issue a search warrant, which isan indication of the absence of a probable cause (U.S. Supreme Court,2016). According to Douglas, it can be argued that the detective hadmore authority than a judge who is expected to issue warrants. Theopinion made by Douglas makes a distinction between reasonablesuspicion and probable cause.

Theidea of probable cause is quite important, but the framers of theconstitution left it fluid and imprecise. Police officers are allowedto draw from their experience and training when conducting their jobrelated tasks (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016). From this perspective, itcan be argued that McFadden’s 30 years of working experience in thesame vicinity, which involved a search for pickpocket and shopliftersgave him the experience that he needed to determine the possibilityof a crime. The level of experience, coupled with the conduct ofTerry and his colleagues satisfies at least one criteria fordetermining the probable cause, which is a crime that is about to becommitted (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016).

Probablecause is important because it brings discretion in the day-to-daypractice of the law enforcement. It protects both the law enforcerand the suspect. For example, adherence to the constitutionalrequirement for probable cause protects the officer from being suedfor violation of the law, incompetence, and the abuse of office. Italso protects members of the public from unreasonable search as wellas careless arrest (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016).

Question4: The two part test

Thetwo-part test that was conducted in the case of Terryv. Ohiohelped in the determination of whether the detective observed the lawin exercising the policing functions. The first test that focuses onthe inception of McFadden’s action can be justified using theprinciple of reasonable suspicion. A police officer has the right toapply the training, knowledge, and experience gained over the yearsto suspect that an individual intends to engage in a crime(Richardson, 2012). However, reasonable suspicion does not give anofficer the right to arrest or conduct a search. In the case ofMcFadden, it was possible to apply the skills gained over many yearsof working experience to make a reasonable suspicion that Terry andhis colleagues were planning a crime based on their behavior in thestreet. Although suspicion does not authorize an officer to search anindividual, it creates the need for the inception of furtherinvestigation. Therefore, McFadden’s decision to talk to Terry andother men, even before conducting the search was reasonable.

Thesecond test, which is the relationship of the officer’s actions inthe circumstances, can be justified by the fact that a minimuminterference was necessary in order to enhance the public safety. Theexplanation provided by the officer before the court indicates thatthe behavior of Terry and other men, coupled with the fact that hewas expected to investigate crimes related to shoplifting andpick-pocketing in the vicinity implies that detective’s actionswere related to circumstances. In addition, the level of interferenceincreased progressively depending on the circumstances presented bythe discovery that the officer made with time. For example, areasonable suspicion resulted in a casual interrogation themurmuring of the suspects prompted the officer to conduct a minimumsearch on the outer coat and the discovery of the gun led to a legalarrest. Therefore, the level of interference was commensurate withthe prevailing circumstances.

Thetest did not leave too much discretion to the officer because he wasdoing what he was mandated to do as a law enforcer. The officerevoked the exemption provision that is contained in the FourthAmendment. The provision authorizes the law enforcers to conduct asearch when there is a probable cause without requesting for awarrant from the court (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016). This level ofdiscretion cannot be considered to be excess because it is within theprovision of the constitution and it was exercised in the interest ofan effective enforcement of the law.

Question5: Examination of the court’s holding that probable cause shouldbe based on the totality of circumstances

Thejudges were guided by an idea that there is no element that one canconsider and determine the existence of a probable cause. Therefore,the idea of “totality” is derived from the fact that the lawenforcers should take account of all prevailing circumstances inorder to reach a comprehensive conclusion (Kinports, 2014). Forexample, the knowledge as well as the experience of the lawenforcement officer is expected to guide them in assessing thecriminal behavior (Richardson, 2012). However, suspicion alone is notsufficient because an officer should be able to apply investigativeinferences before causing inconvenience to a suspect. The purpose ofusing inferences is to determine the intent of the suspect to breakthe law (Kaplan, Mateo &amp Sillett, 2012). For example, McFaddenused his experience to conclude that people who move up and downalong the same path and then hold a conference could be planning anillegal event. The behavior (including the unusual movement on theavenue and murmuring when confronted by the officer) of Terry andother men supported the idea of reasonable suspicion held by thedetective.

Allthe aforementioned factors are subjective because they depend on thejudgment of the detective. However, they can be relied on when makinga conclusion about the existence of a probable cause. Based on theconcept of “totality of circumstances”, it is evident that allfactors lead to the same conclusion, which is the intent to engage ina criminal activity (Kinports, 2014). The negative effect ofsubjectivity is minimized by the fact that all factors helped thedetective and the court arrived at the same conclusion with regard tothe existence of the probable cause.

Question6: Validity of the court’s stating that the act of police accostingan individual and restraining his freedom to walk away is the same asseizing

Theterm “seize” is generally used to mean that someone has heldsomething in a sudden way and using force. In the case of Terryv. Ohio,the court equated the act of “seizing” to denial of the freedomto walk away because the police officer had the authority to forceTerry and other men to stop making any movement. Therefore, theapplication of force to stop the suspects from walking away, evenwithout holding them by the hands makes the court’s assertionvalid. For example, the police office instructed terry and other mento enter a nearby store from where the search was conducted. The factthat they obeyed the detective’s order suggests that they wereunder his control, irrespective of whether he had the capacity tohold them by his hands. This statement is further justified by theexistence of the imbalance of power between the civilians and the lawenforcement agents (U.S. Supreme Court, 2016). Therefore, it isevident that the law enforcer can seize a suspect by simply limitingtheir freedom to walk away.


TheFourth Amendment protects members of the public from pestering thatmight result from unreasonable search. However, it provides anexemption that allows the law enforcers to search the suspects aslong as there is a probable cause. Some of the key issues that arisefrom the analysis of the Fourth Amendment include the need forprotection of the right of the suspect to enjoy privacy, the legaldefinition of the concept of search, probable cause, totality ofcircumstances, and reasonable suspicion. The law enforcement officersare expected to establish the balance between the net to protect thepublic and right of the suspects to enjoy privacy. The right to enjoyprivacy can be waived when there is a need to conduct a search thatwill enhance the safety of the public.


Kaplan,J., Mateo, A., &amp Sillett, R. (2012). Thehistory and law of wiretapping.Arkin Kaplan Rice, LLP: New York, NY.

Kinports,K. (2014). Probable cause and reasonable suspicion: Totality tests orrigid rules? Universityof Pennsylvania Law Review Online,163 (75), 75-87.

Richardson,L. (2012). Police efficiency and the Fourth Amendment. IndianLaw Journal,87, 1143-1182.

U.S.Supreme Court (2016). Terryv. Ohio.Washington, DC: U.S. Supreme Court.