Criminal Justice Paper on Terry v. Ohio

Criminal Justice Paper on  Terry v. Ohio

392 U.S. 1 (1968)

Facts. On Thursday 31st October 1963, police Officer Martin McFadden of Cleveland who had served in the police force for thirty-nine years while on patrol downtown spotted two suspicious people (Saltzburg 5). They were standing in a corner next to a jewelry store located on Euclid Avenue. A third person joined them briefly. The three made suspicious movement up and down the street in turns. McFadden approached them and identified himself as a police officer. When asked for identities they mumbled. McFadden frisks each of them and finds a pistol in the coat left side pocket of petitioner John Woodall Terry; the pistol had the serial number 897012 (Saltzburg 6). Further, while searching Richard Chilton, McFadden finds a revolver loaded with five bullets in the right front pocket of his coat. The revolver had the serial number 5209 (Saltzburg 7). Finally, the third person named Katz did not have a weapon. The detective arrested both Terry and Chilton and they have been charged for carrying concealed weapons at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Judge Bernard Friedman found the two guilty.


titioner was dissatisfied with the decision and filed an appeal. He argued that the process of frisking, arrest, and prosecution was uncalled for and illegal since no crime had been committed. Terry’s defense also complained that the petitioner was searched without a prior warrant to do so. This was against the Fourth Amendment rights that protect citizens against unnecessary search by authorities (Harris 11). The Amendment intended to safeguard the public against harassment from the police and other authorities.

Decision and rationale of the court. The appellate court upheld the ruling on the grounds that the police officer was right to frisk the petitioner and his companion in order to protect people and property. The petitioner immediately filed an appeal at the Supreme Court in the year 1967 (Harris 8). In the month of June 1968, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the previous courts. Further, it made a ruling that allowed police officers on duty to frisk and question individuals whose conduct is suspicious, however, the frisking and questioning do not guarantee an arrest.

Standards established. The case of Terry v. Ohio evolved and is commonly referred to as the ‘Stop and frisk’ case. The Supreme Court in its ruling clearly distinguished the contradicting terms, therefore, setting a standard on which similar cases will be based upon. The Court made an interpretation of the Fourth Amendment rights that protect citizens against unnecessary search by authorities (Harris 11). The interpretation of the Fourth Amendment allowed police to frisk and search people in a bid to protect themselves or others. Further, the court made a distinction between the terms ‘search’ and ‘frisk’. While making the ruling, the judges defined frisking as the act of scanning the outer clothing with the aim of finding weapons while searching was defined as the process of digging deep in order to find evidence (Thomas III 13). These definitions, therefore, implied that the police did not violate the Fourth amendment in the case of Terry v. Ohio. Finally, although the Fourth amendment required that a warrant is produced prior to searching or frisking of an individual, the Supreme Court interpreted the statement and made it clear. The interpretation was in agreement that a search warrant was necessary; however, the police officers are warranted in situations where they believe their own lives and lives of other people are at risk (Harris 19).




Works Cited

Saltzburg, Stephen A. Terry v. Ohio: A Practically Perfect Doctrine. John’s L. Rev. 72 (1998): 911.

Harris, David A. Particularized Suspicion, Categorical Judgments: Supreme Court Rhetoric versus Lower Court Reality under Terry v. Ohio. John’s L. Rev. 72 (1998): 975.

Thomas III, George C. Terry v. Ohio in the Trenches: A Glimpse at How Courts Apply Reasonable Suspicion. John’s L. Rev. 72 (1998): 1025