Case Brief #8: Terry v. Ohio – 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968)
McFadden, a Cleveland Detective, observed two strangers during his patrolling operations, these two strangers, the petitioner and another man, Chiltton were seen toi proceed alternatively back and forth along an identical route, and pausing to stare in the same window for a total of 24 times. After completing this route, the two would conference at a corner before they were joined by another man, Katz who left swiftly. The officer suspected that the two men were planning a job hence followed them. The two then rejoined Katz several blocks away in front of a store. The officer approached the three and when he asked them to identify themselves, the men just mumbled.
McFadden spun the petitioner around, patted down his clothing tio find a pistol in his overcoat pocket but he could not remove it, the officer ordered the three men into the store, he removed the petitioner’s overcoat, removed the revolver and ordered them to face the wall while raising their hands. He patted both Chilton and Katz to seize a revolver from the former. His pat down on Kat did not yield anything. The three were taken to the police station. The petitioner and Chilton were charged for carrying concealed weapons. The defense moved to suppress the weapons. The trial court denied the prosecution’s theory that the seized guns during the search incident of the lawful arrest, the court denied the motion to suppress and admit the weapons as evidence since the officer did have cause of believing the two were acting suspiciously hence the interrogation was warranted, the officer also had the right of potting form the outer clothing for his protection.
2. Legal Issue
Was the search and seizure of Terry and the other men in violation of the Fourth Amendment?
The Supreme Court held that it is a reasonable search when the officer carries out a quick seizure and a limited search for weapons in an individual if the officer had reasonable cause for doing so. A normal officer would be unduly burdened if they are prohibited from searching individuals who are suspected to be armed. The court stated that despite the fact that the officer did not have probable cause for arresting the petitioner who underwent the ‘stop and frisk’ warrantless intrusion, the search satisfied the conditions of the American constitution. This is that the officer did have reasonable suspicion based on their experience that the petitioner and the other two men were about to carry out a daytime robbery. The officer’s belief that the petitioner was armed at the time, dangerous and poised a threat to the officer and others hence justifying the pat-down of the petitioner’s overcoat. Additionally, the court rules thathe search in the petitioner’s outer clothing and that of the companions was properly limited at the time and scope.
4. Reasoning of Majority
Chief Justice Earl presented the majority opinion stating that McFadden had the authority of conducting the limited opato-down for weapons for his safety. This is because the suspects were observed engaging in suspicious activities which warranted inquiry by the police. He stated that stopping someone for brief questioning and conducting a pat-down search did constitute a search which has been defined by the Fourth Amendment. Focusing narrowly on the facts of this particular case, the Court found that the officer acted on more than a “hunch” and that “a reasonably prudent man would have been warranted in believing the petitioner was armed and thus presented a threat to the officer’s safety while he was investigating his suspicious behavior
5. Reasoning of Concurrence
Justice Harlan agreed with the majority opinion but put emphasis on the need for an additional necessity of the reasonableness of the stop of investigating the crime. Justice White also agreed with the majority but emphasized that the specific facts in this case did lead to the suspicion of a violent crime hence meriting the forcible stop and frisk.
6. Reasoning of Dissent.
Justice Douglas presented his dissenting opinion stating that the court had given the police with more legal authority of conducting a search and seizure surpassing the requirement for a judge issuing a court order that authorizes a search and seizure. The judge argued that police searches need to remain constrained under the standard threshold of probable cause.
It is evident that the facts of a case need to be understood to acknowledge the supreme court’s willingness to allow the search. There was a possibility of a suspicious activity such as violent crime or armed robbery to happen and hence the officer’s suspicions were correct. The officer would be in a dangerous position to approach the men for questioning without searching them. The officer also did not detain the men for a long duration to constitute an arrest without probable cause.