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Sample Essay on Terry v. Ohio

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Sample Essay on Terry v. Ohio


Terry v. Ohio was a court case conducted within the United States Supreme Court in 1968. Judges at the Supreme Court ruled the case in relation to rights awarded to citizens based on the Fourth Amendment. The case therefore determined if police officers ought to frisk, pat down, search, and seizure a suspect without a probable cause to arrest. It was a major landmark in determining if police officers are allowed to base their suspicions in conducting searches and seizures on suspects. Legal officers within the police force ought to conduct themselves with dignity, respect, and facts. However, they often act based on their gut feelings and suspicions. For example, if they suspect a person is about to, has, or will commit a crime, they often search the individual to affirm their qualms. More so, if they suspect the individual is armed and dangerous, especially in relation to public safety, they also conduct searches and seizures (Patrick & Gary, 2009).

The Supreme Court, however, asserts that all legal officers ought to conduct searches and seizures based on specific and articulated facts. Thus, legal officers should not violate citizens’ right to privacy by conducting searches and seizures based on mere hunches and suspicions. Patting down, frisking, searching, and seizures are acts undertaken by police officers among pedestrians, passengers, and drivers. They involve the legal officer stopping, detaining, and searching an individual to correspond or contradict their suspicions that the person is potentially armed thus harmful and dangerous (Devallis, 2011).

Summary of the Terry v. Ohio Case

Police officers are tasked with providing and enhancing public security. The court case between John Terry and the State evaluated and analyzed the following legal facts. First, maintaining and sustaining public safety is important among States and the country. Thus, police officers ought to undertake their roles and responsibilities effectively and efficiently. However, in order for legal officers to undertake their jobs, they also need to be safe and protected. This is because citizens can be either criminals or victims. Thus, criminals interfering with public security also endanger the police officers’ lives. Police officers should therefore be vigil in ensuring they are safe as they safeguard public persons and property (Devallis, 2011).

The case also revealed that police officers act based on probable causes and reasonable suspicions. If they suspect an individual is about to commit a crime and hinder public security they should act accordingly. However, they are required to acquire a search warrant before conducting searches and seizures on suspected criminals especially in public. This is because the United States Constitution ensures citizens rights to privacy are respected and sustained in relation to the Fourth Amendment. Thus, conducting searches publicly especially among innocent citizens is fundamentally wrong and violating constitutional rights to privacy (Devallis, 2011).


In 1968, John Terry was frisked, found guilty of secretly concealing a weapon. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail. A legal police officer from Cleveland conducted the search after he observed Terry and his friend act suspiciously outside a departmental store window. The officer was suspicious that the two were planning to invade and carry out criminal activities within the store. Based on this hunch and suspicion, the Cleveland police officer introduced himself to the two individuals as a legal officer in the police force. He requested to know their names before patting them down outside the departmental store. He located the illegal weapon on Terry. However, it was hidden underneath his coat. In order to access and seize it, he removed Terry’s coat and confiscated the revolver prompting an arrest (Patrick & Gary, 2009).

Under the United States Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment awards citizens a right against unreasonable frisking and patting down described as searching. In June 1968, the United States Supreme Court had to decide on the case. This case attracted and involved sentiments and concerns from lower courts. It was crucial to determine if the Cleveland police officer had violated Terry’s Fourth Amendment rights (Patrick & Gary, 2009).

The Fourth Amendment asserts that citizens are and should be protected from unwarranted searches by legal officers. The searches should not be conducted on their bodies, houses, cars, and other personal spaces without a warrant. Police and legal officers take an oath to affirm that before they conduct searches and seizures, they ought to present a warrant. However, the warrant should not be presented based on mere hunches and suspicions. Instead, it should be based on facts (Devallis, 2011).

It is therefore evident that the Cleveland police officer violated Terry’s Fourth Amendment rights. This is because he neither presented a search warrant nor was he mandated to conduct the search and seizure in a public place. He should have transferred Terry and his friend to a police station. Consequently, he should have sought for a search warrant before proceeding with the search. Conversely, he should have introduced himself as a police officer, read them their legal rights, transferred them to a police station, and conducted the search. Thus, he should have conducted the search to avoid invading the suspects’ rights to privacy in public especially if they had been innocent (Devallis, 2011).



 Chief Justice William Orville Douglas Opinion

In ruling the Terry v. Ohio case, Justice Douglas listed the following facts. First, police officers are mandated to prevent, stop, and lower crime in the country to ensure and enhance public security. Secondly, police officers can occasionally act based on the present circumstances, especially if there is a security threat. In such occasions, legal officers should ensure they are acting accordingly and appropriately. This includes approaching the suspect appropriately, explaining their suspicions, and conducting their investigations without necessarily violating citizens’ constitutional rights in relation to the Fourth Amendment. The justice however also asserted that their actions should not necessarily be based on probable causes in conducting searches and making arrests (Patrick & Gary, 2009).

Justice Douglas opinion, therefore, awarded legal and police officers the right to conduct searches and seizures. This is aimed at ensuring their roles and responsibilities are effective and efficient in enhancing and sustaining public security in the country. If a police officer believes and trusts the suspected individual is a security threat, he/she should act accordingly and appropriately. This involves the police officer searching the suspected individual for illegal arms and weapons, such as a guns and pistols. According to Justice Douglas, the Cleveland police officer did not infringe human rights awarded under the Fourth Amendment. This is because the police officer fulfilled the following two conditions. First, he conducted the search through a physical investigation in accordance to legal requirements. Secondly, the investigation was conducted after the police officer reasonably suspected Terry was carrying illegal and dangerous weapons capable of interfering with public security. Thus, according to Justice Douglas reasonable suspicion warranted the Cleveland police officer to conduct the search and confiscate the pistol (Patrick & Gary, 2009).

Reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard to probable cause. Probable causes are based on facts indicating that an individual is actually a security threat. For example, after the Cleveland officer found the pistol under Terry’s clothes, his reasonable suspicion developed to probable cause. Warrants to conduct searches and seizures should therefore be issued based on probable causes. According to Barbara Shapiro, probable causes originated from legal and cultural doctrines, values, and philosophies. Probable causes are crucial is ensuring legal, social, religious, and economic factors foster growth and development in a community (Barbara, 1993).

Doctrines and philosophies under probable causes, therefore, legally evolve based on the degree of growth among communities. For example, legal officers in warzone areas should conduct searches for illegal weapons without necessarily presenting warrants. This is because their suspicions that citizens are in possession of illegal weapons thus fueling the war are based on probable causes. However, legal officers in a peaceful and stable nation should use search warrants to avoid violating citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. They should not conduct searches in cars, offices, houses, and other personal areas without a probable cause which facilitates acquisition of a warrant (Barbara, 1993).

The Terry v. Ohio case was based on two parts. Firstly, the police officer’s actions infringed John Terry’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. However, the infringement was reasonable as the officer was able to prevent and reduce crime within Ohio. Thus, the police officer’s actions were reasonable and acceptable. This is because they were reasonably and appropriately undertaken based on scope of the circumstances during which Terry was act suspiciously. This however does not leave police officers with too much discretion when making a determination to stop and search a suspicious individual. This is because they are trained, qualified, and experienced legal officers able to distinguish between criminals and victims. More so, they are tasked with ensuring public security is maintained. In the field, they should apply skills acquired from training and experiences. This can include making observations to determine if public safeties are compromised. Thus, this case affirms police officers ought to be vigilant in order to be effective and efficient in their tasks (Devallis, 2011).

The Supreme Court declared probable causes should be based and relate on the totality of the circumstances. There are different and diverse factors that shape the totality of incidents. In the case of Terry v. Ohio, the police officer ought to have acquired specialized knowledge from training in relation to behavioral patterns among criminals. He had served thirty nine years in the police force and thirty five years as a detective. He therefore used his extensive level of experience to shape the totality of circumstances that Terry and his friend were about to commit a crime. Secondly, observations raising suspicions can also shape the totality of circumstances. The police officer’s personal observations on Terry’s suspicious behavior shaped the totality of circumstances. Lastly, the officer’s analytical and investigative skills and qualifications also shaped the totality of circumstances in the case. This is because the police officer’s investigative inferences facilitated him to search, locate, and seize the pistol underneath Terry’s coat. However, these factors can be too subjective to establish a probable cause because police officers differ in relation to skills and experiences. For example, a police officer who has served in the force for one year cannot relate with a counterpart who has served for more than ten years. They differ in investigative inferences and level of specialized knowledge based on their experiences in the police force (Devallis, 2011).


In conclusion, the court held that a police officer violates a person’s Fourth Amendment rights if he/she accosts and restrains him/her from walking way. This assertion is valid because the law asserts that persons ought to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. For example, criminals serving time in prison cannot claim their Fourth Amendment rights are violated.  However, if a person is detained, investigated, and found innocent their Fourth Amendment rights are violated for that period of time. Thus, Fourth Amendment rights are terminated after a person is found guilty and detained in prison.



Barbara, S. (1993). Beyond Reasonable Doubt and Probable Cause: Historical Perspectives on the Anglo-American Law of Evidence, University of California Press.

Devallis, R. (2011). Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion, The Law Enforcement Magazine.

Patrick, L. O., & Gary, A. (2009). Terry v. Ohio (1968) Supreme Court Decision: A Critical Review, University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

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