Supreme Court and Criminal Procedure

SupremeCourt and Criminal Procedure

SupremeCourt and Criminal Procedure

Case:Terryv. Ohio (1968)


Aplain clothed Cleveland detective, McFadden, was patrolling andnoticed Terry and Chilton standing on the street. The officer sawthat Terry and Chilton walked past a store and stared into the windowseveral times. The two then went back to the street corner where athird man joined them where they have a brief conversation. McFaddensuspected that Terry and Chilton were casing the store, so heapproached them. He identified himself as a police officer and askedfor their names. Upon reply, the officer then turned Terry around andpatted him down, and he felt a gun. Then, he ordered them to goinside the store where he frisked the three men and removed guns fromTerry and Chilton. They were convicted of carrying a concealed weaponand sentenced to three years jail term. Subsequently, Terry moved tosuppress the gun from the evidence.


Whetherthe police officer was reasonable to subject the three men to alimited search for weapons and seize them if he did not have probablecause for an arrest. Is the search and seizure is reasonable underthe provisions of the Fourth Amendment?


No.The Supreme Court held that it is reasonable to search when a policeofficer performs a limited search for weapons and seizure if theofficer reasonably believes that a person could be armed. Therefore,if a police officer observes suspicious behavior, which leads him orher to have reasonable doubts that a person is armed or dangerousbased on his experience, then, he is entitled to protect himself andothers. However, the police officer must identify himself and makereasonable inquiries. Besides, the officer should conduct a carefullylimited search to ensure that any concealed weapons cannot be used toassault him or others in the area.


Accordingto the Fourth Amendment, a police officer has a right to search aperson and even detain him or her temporarily. The police officershave a legitimate interest in crime detection and preventionaccording to their job description, which justifies them to approachsomeone and make the necessary inquiries or investigate further.Therefore, when an officer has justified reasons that an individualshows suspicious behavior and after investigating finds that theperson is armed and presently dangerous, then, it is only reasonablefor the officer to take the necessary measures to neutralize anythreat. In situations where the officer does not have a reason forprobable cause for arrest, the weapons seized during the search canbe used as evidence against that person. Nonetheless, the officermust articulate and point to facts that reasonably justify the searchand seizure. Therefore, an officer has a right to protect himself ina situation where he does not have probable cause for an arrest.


Thecase formed an important foundation, which helps in understanding theprovisions that allow for search and seizure. Besides, it has beenvital in facilitating the understanding to validate searchingdefendants for a weapon in situations of diverse circumstances.Although the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonablesearch and seizure, it does not protect suspects who are acting in asuspicious manner from being questioned and searched by a policeofficer if he or she believes that circumstances can escalate into adangerous situation. Before Terry’s case, police officers couldonly conduct searches based on probable cause, but the court’sruling reduced the burden of proof to a reasonable suspicion thatgave the officers more protection.


Majorityopinion (8) Justice Warren wrote the majority opinion joined byJustice Black, Justice Stewart, Justice Brennan, Justice Fortas, andJustice Marshall. Concurrence: Justice Harlan and Justice White.Dissent (1): Justice Douglas.