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Terry v. Ohio

(1967 - 1968)

How and why you could be searched for being reasonably suspicious.



BACKGROUND:

Docket Number: 67

Date Argued: December 12, 1967

Date Decided: June 10, 1968


A man named John Terry as well as two others were caught “casing a job” (investigating a location they intended to rob) by a plain-clothed (not wearing a uniform) officer. One of those men, Terry, was carrying a firearm. He was sentenced to three years in Jail. However, the officer did not have probable cause to search the men. In fact, the only reason he searched them in the first place - a search that revealed a concealed weapon - was because they were acting suspiciously. Terry, argued that because the Policeman did not have probable cause, the search of Terry and his two comrades was in violation of the fourth amendment.


PRESIDING QUESTIONS: Was the search of Terry and his comrades justified or in violation of the fourth amendment? Also, can the seized weapon be used as evidence in a court of law?


OUTCOME - 8-1 in favor of Ohio

  • The court reasoned that the officer did not simply act on a hunch, but that he had reasonable suspicion. Essentially, if any reasonable person could conclude that the men in suspicion were armed and dangerous, the search was warranted. The officer does not have to be completely certain that the suspect is armed, rather, they have to conclude that the suspect poses a threat to the wellbeing of society, primarily through a careful and thorough analysis of their actions. Because the search was warranted, the use of the seized weapon as evidence is also allowed.


PARTIES AND OPINIONS

Side 1- Terry, Petitioner

  • John Terry was arrested for possession of a concealed weapon.

  • Their central argument is that because the Officer did not have probable cause to search them, they should not have been arrested, and the weapon found on them should not have been used as evidence against them.


Side 2- Ohio, Respondent

  • The state of Ohio.

  • Their central argument is that because they were acting in a suspicious manner, the search and seizure of the suspects and their weapon was warranted and therefore, the weapon could be used as evidence against them.


Concurring Opinion

  • The concurring opinion, voiced by justices Black, Harlan, and White, mainly consisted of the idea that the investigation was warranted because an investigation was required. Because the men were acting suspiciously, the officer had a reason to investigate and make sure that the safety of society was not at risk.


SIGNIFICANCE

  • This is mainly significant because of its impacts on the fourth amendment as well as the reestablishment of the idea of reasonable suspicion. Essentially, probable cause is not the barrier between interactions between officers and the general public. In order to protect the safety of the public, the officer can interact with the citizens if he has a reasonable suspicion on the basis of his experience and observations.


As a result of this case, the phrase “Terry Stop” has been used a lot as a replacement to the phrase “stop and frisk”, where a police officer can stop a citizen and search them at any time if they deem them suspicious. In modern times, this has led to many issues in areas where race is a very controversial topic.


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