Terry V. Ohio

Posted by Melda Research on May 3rd, 2019

The assignment is based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S Constitution that limits the power of the police in making arrests, search people, and their property, as well as seize objects and contraband including illegal drugs and weapons. The limits to the power of the police form the basis of the search and seizure law and the right to privacy of every American Citizen.

Terry V. Ohio 392 U.S. case involves Terry and two other men who were seen by a plainclothes policeman who believed that the men were “casing a job, a stick-up” and had weapons. The officer stopped and frisked the three men and realized that two of them had weapons. They convicted Terry of carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to three years in jail. The major question in the case is whether Search and seizure of Terry and the other men were in violation of the Fourth Amendment. John Terry claimed that the officer lacked evidence and probable cause to conduct the frisk and to do it; he needed to have evidence that showed that the men were in the course of committing a crime. He claimed that the search was an invasion of his right to privacy. Terry’s main defense lies in the due process clause of U.S constitution that requires the government to uphold the legal rights and liberties of its citizens when arrested or held in custody (Terry V.Ohio. 1968. 392 U.S).

Terry filed the case of Terry v. Ohio with the claims of invasion to his privacy and that the officer violated his 4th Amendment rights. The constitution protects U.S citizens from illegal searches and seizures as conducted by the law enforcement agents. The case was heard in the United States Supreme Court and was ruled in favor of the state. The jury claimed that the search was initiated from evidence as well as reasonable suspicion. Thus, it was ruled that the officer had probable cause, and the two men in possession of weapons were a threat to the society. The Supreme Court did not hold Terry's claims that the officer violated his right to privacy by searching.

I think that law enforcement did not violate Terry and other men’ are right to privacy which the Fourth Amendment guarantees. From the details provided in the background of the case, it is evident that the police officer saw the two men proceed alternately back and forth alongside a particular route and started in the same window which cumulatively had a frequency of 24 times. In every route, the men had a meeting with another guy who later left in a hurry. The conduct of the three men was adequate evidence for the police officer to suspect that they were planning or in the process of doing an unlawful act. Additionally, despite having been searched ‘illegally’ as they claimed, two men were found to be in possession of weapons which could be used as evidence that they were planning to commit a crime. It was prudent enough to consider that the officer ought to have searched the three men to ascertain that he was safe while investigating their suspicious behavior. The search had a limited scope and only meant to protect the safety of the officer regarding the investigation. According to me, I believe that no right to privacy was violated as claimed by Terry since he was engaged with armed men who were a threat to the safety of the other citizens and also the investigative officer. The Fourth Amendment to U.S Constitution guarantees the right of freedom from any unreasonable search and seizures and is applicable in protecting the right to privacy (LaFave, 2004). In the facts of the case presented, the officer did not conduct an unreasonable search, but instead was triggered by the suspicious conduct of the three men and the fact that they were armed cannot be taken as a violation of their right to privacy.

Justice Douglas had a dissenting opinion and explained that the Court had provided the police with legal authority to perform searches and seizures and ignored that they have to have a court order to authorize a search or seizure. He argued that police search should be constrained by the threshold of probable cause and that the ruling would have dire implications that provide more power and authority to the police at the expense of personal liberties (Terry v. Ohio. n.d. Oyez). The ideas by Justice Douglas are validly presented and contend the ruling since it seemed to give more power to the police officers to search and seizure even without a court order. He argued that the threshold of probable cause was lowered which gave more power to the police to violate individual freedoms such as the right to privacy. For law enforcement officer to make an arrest, he/she must have probable cause that the person committed a criminal offense. Probable cause also enables law enforcement officers to acquire search warrants since a person cannot be subjected to unreasonable searches or his property (Lerner, 2002). As such, all the searches by law enforcement officials should be reasonable, and the officers need to have and identify probable cause. Probable cause is higher than reasonable suspicion and allows an officer to detain a person for a long period to allow for investigation. There must be evidence that links the suspected person to the crime in question (Lerner, 2002). From the case presented, the search of Terry’s car was based on the possibility that the men were likely to be involved in a crime. Their conduct before the search and seizure warranted a probable cause to search the individuals even without obtaining an order from the Court. It was necessary for the police officer to apply his instincts and believe that the three men could be planning an illegal activity. The search which led to the seizing of the weapons was probable cause to arrest the three men and file a case in connection with their conduct. Probable cause can warrant an arrest, but concrete evidence is required to prove guilt on an individual for them to be convicted. In connection to this, the officer needed to show that Terry was liable to threaten the safety of other people by him being amidst two people with weapons and having suspicious behavior. The consistency in the conduct of the three men as observed by the police officer could be essential in proving that there was probable cause to search and seize the weapons in their possession.

 The two part test provided by the Court in Terry asked whether the officer’s action was justified at its inception and whether it is reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. The officer’s action was justified at its inception since he was concerned with the government’s interest in investigating crime and taking steps to assure himself that the person with whom he was dealing with was not armed with a weapon that could be used against him. It would be unreasonable for the police officer not to take any step in assessing the level of risk in his work. Many cases involving American criminals have a tradition of being armed, and law enforcers have been killed in their work and others wounded. Thus, it was necessary for the police officer to protect himself from the prospective criminal activities by searching and seizing any forms of weapons that were in possession of the three men. 

The actions by the officer were related to the scope of the circumstances that justified the interference because he acted regarding crime investigation. When an officer is justified in the belief that the person whose suspicious behavior he is investigating is armed, it is important not to deny him the power to take the necessary measures in determining whether the person has the weapon. As such, it was reasonable for the officer to search the three men for self-defense against criminal violence. Though Terry explained that his right to privacy was violated, the nature and quality of the intrusion on individual rights should be considered. It should be acceptable for police officers to have a right to search for weapons in situations where probable cause to arrest for crime lacks. The argument of the petitioner is that intrusion is permissible only to the incidents of lawful arrest for a crime involving possession of weapons or crime leading to an investigation. The argument cannot be ignored since the officer did not witness any form of crime associated with Terry.   

Based on the two-part test, police officers are left with much discretion when determining to stop an individual. The Court held that the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and the weapons identified could be used as evidence against the petitioner. The Court found that the officer acted in a threat to the safety of the officer and thus had to be sure that Terry was not armed throughout the investigation duration. The court case sets a precedent that allows police officers to interrogate and frisk suspicious persons. The police are left with much discretion in their determination of whom to stop and conduct a search since they can articulate on a reasonable basis to stop and frisk. The case appears to provide a blanket authority to intrude individual rights to be left alone and expands the authority of the police to investigate a crime where there is a reasonable basis for suspicion. Since the decision was held that Terry’s right of privacy was not violated in this case, it is evident that police officers are likely to perform more stops and searches as long as they have reasonable suspicion that the persons being stopped are likely to engage in crime.

The Court made a ruling that held that probable cause is based on the totality of the circumstances. Several factors shape the totality of circumstances that include specialized knowledge of the officers, investigative inferences, personal observation of suspicious behavior, and information from other sources. A totality of circumstances standard explains that no single deciding factor can be used to conclude an issue of probable cause and that one ought to consider all the facts (Lerner, 2002). In this case, the court ruling should not be informed by single factors, but on a totality of the circumstances involved. I think that the factors provided are too subjective in establishing probable cause because they can easily be influenced by individual thoughts and reasoning which is bound to vary from one individual to another. Regarding specialized knowledge of the officers, many of them are considered to have expertized in what they do and hence are not questioned as to why they think that a particular situation presented a probable cause for stop and frisk. Investigative inferences are the interpretations made by the officer throughout the investigation process which is largely subjective rather than objective and might affect the validity of the probable cause. Investigative inferences are based on personal understanding of the situation in question and thus cannot be fully authenticated as a standard way of identifying probable cause. Personal observations of suspicious behavior are far too subjective in the determination of probable cause since it depends on individual analysis and interpretation of the situation at hand. An individual may observe that a person’s behavior amounts to criminal activity and another one may have a different opinion as to the likelihood of the person committing a crime. Regarding the case presented, there was no information from other sources that could inform the officer that the three men were likely to be in possession of weapons or cause a crime. As such, the officer relied on subjective ideas about the issue leading to the decision of stopping and searching them. Due to the subjectivity of the factors involved, probable cause has to be determined based on the totality of circumstances and not on a single factor.

The Court held that whenever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has seized the person with the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. It’s a valid position since the Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures and their right to privacy (LaFave, 2004). In this case, the restraining of an individual to walk away is a form of detention that hinders them from enjoying the said freedoms. The hindrance to the freedom of walking away subjects individuals to being seized and searched for any weapons that could be dangerous. The individual can no longer act as if he was free and thus is bound to cooperate in the search and frisk process which by itself appears as though the person has been seized with the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The person whose freedom to walk away has been restrained has already fulfilled the first condition of being suspected of being a criminal and also stopped and searched which are crucial provisions in the Fourth Amendment. Since the amendments were made to enhance the protection of individual rights, the limitation of the freedom to walk away works in line with what the amendments contend for.        



LaFave, W. R. (2004). Search and seizure: A treatise on the Fourth Amendment (Vol. 4). West Group Publishing.

Lerner, C. S. (2002). The reasonableness of probable cause. Tex. L. Rev., 81, 951.

Terry V.Ohio. (1968). 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. ED.2d 889, 1968 U.S

Terry v. Ohio. (n.d.). Oyez

Sherry Roberts is the author of this paper. A senior editor at MeldaResearch.Com in urgent custom research papers. If you need a similar paper you can place your order from legitimate essay writing service services.

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