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Suspect Examination and Body Seach in Terry v Ohio Case Study

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Updated: Aug 6th, 2020

Summary of the Case

Martin McFadden, a detective from Cleveland, was patrolling when he noticed two individuals (the supplicant and another male named Chilton) on the corner of the street. He saw them going back and forth along the same path over and over again, hesitating to look at the same shop window. The two repeated the described activity for 24 times in a row. After each of the completions of the path, Terry and Chilton discussed something on a corner. Katz, the third man, joined them a bit later but left quickly (Terry v. Ohio, 1968). The officer suspected the men of planning a robbery and decided to follow them. McFadden witnessed the three men rejoining near the store. The officer came up to the three, let them know he was a police officer and asked them to identify themselves. The men murmured something, and so McFadden decided to turn Terry around and inspect his outside clothing.

As a result, he found a pistol, but he was not able to remove it (Terry v. Ohio, 1968). McFadden ordered the three to enter the shop. He removed Terry’s outer garments, took out a firearm, and ordered Terry, Chilton, and Katz to raise their hands and face the wall. He inspected the outer garments of the other two suspects and found a revolver in one of Chilton’s outerwear pockets. McFadden did not inspect Katz’s underwear because he did not notice anything throughout his pat-down which might have been a firearm. He did not inspect Terry’s or Chilton’s outer garments either. McFadden took the three alleged wrongdoers to the police station. Two of three men were accused of toting concealed weapons (Terry v. Ohio, 1968). The defendants wished to suppress the weaponry.

Even though the court excluded the trial concept that the firearms had been detained throughout a search event according to a legitimate seizure, the court rejected the attempt to suppress and acknowledged the firearms as the evidence on the basis of the fact that McFadden reasonably believed that Terry and Chilton were behaving deviously, that their examination was acceptable, and that the law enforcement officer had the right to check their outer garments for guns. McFadden was believed to have a rational reason to accept as true that they might be armed and represented a danger to the officer (Terry v. Ohio, 1968). The court separated an investigatory stopover from detention, and a trivial pat-down from a complete search for evidence of delinquency. Chilton and Terry were found guilty. The State Supreme Court terminated the appeal on the basis of the fact that no significant constitutional issue was involved.

Decision of the Court

The US Supreme Court affirmed that Terry and Chilton were guilty. The decision was made on the basis of the fact that the frisk was performed in order to prevent the crime. Moreover, the subjects were found to be armed and dangerous, and the examination was conducted without belittling the 4th Amendment ban on arbitrary pat-downs and captures. It was also approved by the Court that when the police enforcement officer seized Terry and examined his garments, he subjected Terry to an inspection without violating the principles of the 4th Amendment.

Nevertheless, the Court did state that there is a substantial difference between a full examination of a suspect and a trivial body search for weaponry. Moreover, the difference between an arrest and an interview intended to elicit answers to several questions has also been noted (Richardson, 2012). The Court pronounced that the 4th Amendment only proscribes perverse searches and captures. An objective standard was applied by the Court and the question concerning the appropriateness of McFadden’s actions has been asked.

Reasoning for the Decision of the Court

The reasoning for the decision of the Court consisted in the overall attention to the fact of crime anticipation, the law enforcement officer’s definite anxiety concerning his own security, the citizen’s awareness of his own discretion and dignity. The extent to which the certain search of evidence intervened upon those comforts was also taken into consideration. In other words, the balance between the troublesomeness of a stopover versus the amount of distrust should be found (Keenan & Thomas, 2011). The fact that a stopover and trivial examination are less offensive than a full detention and thorough examination lowers the amount of mandatory suspicion. In this particular case, it was found by the Court that Terry should be considered armed and dangerous.

Consequently, in compliance with the 4th Amendment, the conducted pat-down was considered legal. The Court restricted this kind of stopover searches exclusively to the situations in which there is a realistic doubt that the probable wrongdoer is armed and dangerous. The officer is allowed to search for firearms but is not allowed to search for, let’s say, smuggled goods. The reasoning for the decision includes the protection of the law enforcement officer and identification of weapons that might harm them. This may also be compared to the event when the police officer is allowed to search for destructible evidence. On the contrary, it was claimed that the warrant could not have been given legally if there was no practical reason (Kugler & Strahilevitz, 2016). Nonetheless, it turned out to be that the law enforcement officer had more authority to behave in a certain way than the judges had the authority to legalize such conduct.

Constitutional Right

The Fourth Amendment serves to protect people from imprisonments and searches of items that were seized unlawfully and can be used against the accused in the court. The extents of available protection depend on a number of factors – the type of the confinement, the peculiarities of the site where the search was conducted, and the situation in which the search transpired (Keenan & Thomas, 2011). The Fourth Amendment can guard the constitutional rights of the US citizens in a number of situations. It usually comes into action when an individual is unlawfully stopped at the sidewalk or pulled over for an insignificant matter. The Fourth Amendment may also help those individuals who were exposed to an unlawful home search (including seizure of business documents or any other important items taken away by the law enforcement agency).

In the majority of such cases, a legal warrant should be obtained by the police officer. Nonetheless, the constitutional rights of citizens might be slightly violated in case if the police officer believes that an individual poses a threat to the surroundings and should be searched. Taking this into consideration, it is rational to believe that any action that does not comply with the 4th Amendment is essentially unlawful (Keenan & Thomas, 2011). Any evidence that was obtained during a search inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment should not be used in court due to an exclusionary regulation. The constitutional value of the 4th Amendment helped to establish certain rules regarding the rationality of certain actions performed across the US courts.

Constitutional Issue of the 4th Amendment in the 21st Century

The current constitutional issue of the Fourth Amendment is represented by innovative technologies and various electronic devices such as cellphones that became a ubiquitous asset of our life. Nonetheless, the issue of the constitutionality of unlawful GPS tracking of criminal suspects sparks extensive discussions concerning the Fourth Amendment and its impact on the decisions that are made by courts. Most of the judges frivolously state that when offenders utilize modern hi-tech devices to take part in unlawful events and to condense the likelihood of exposure, they should not protest when the law enforcement agency exploits the intrinsic features of those technologies and devices to seize them.

Nonetheless, it may be partially false because the key purpose of the 4th Amendment is to protect the rights of innocents and this purpose should fully comply with the condition of a feasible cause. Currently, the abuse of the Fourth Amendment may result in the violation of a rather important aspect. This characteristic is inherent in the fact that phone records cannot be protected from a casual police interference (unlike the contents of a phone conversation). Before the invention of mobile phones, any given individual did not expect their conversations to be private in case of a court hearing. Nowadays, the system is able not only to identify the callers but also define their precise location at that moment.


Keenan, D., & Thomas, T. M. (2011). Redefining Fourth Amendment reasonableness: A crime-severity model for Terry stops. SSRN Electronic Journal, 4(11), 45-51. Web.

Kugler, M. B., & Strahilevitz, L. J. (2016). Actual expectations of privacy, Fourth Amendment doctrine, and the mosaic theory. The Supreme Court Review, 2015(1), 205-263. Web.

Richardson, L. (2012). Police efficiency and the Fourth Amendment. Indiana Law Journal, 87(13), 1143-1155.

Terry v. Ohio, 67 U.S. 392 (1968).

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"Suspect Examination and Body Seach in Terry v Ohio." IvyPanda, 6 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/suspect-examination-and-body-seach-in-terry-v-ohio/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Suspect Examination and Body Seach in Terry v Ohio." August 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/suspect-examination-and-body-seach-in-terry-v-ohio/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Suspect Examination and Body Seach in Terry v Ohio'. 6 August.

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