Terry Vs Ohio and Fourth Amendment

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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Terry vs Ohio was a controversial ruling for many reasons. The ruling stated that when police officers randomly stop someone, that constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and, as a result it has to be reasonable. What is reasonable? By this definition reasonable translates to circumstance causing suspicion. Basically, the officer has to have a “reasonable suspicion” based on the initial circumstantial facts and the officer must be able to properly articulate the facts that led to the stop. The officer must show that a crime has been committed or will be based on situational evidence.

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“The court distinguished between an investigatory “stop” and an arrest, and between a “frisk” of the outer clothing for weapons and a full-blown search for evidence of crime. Petitioner and Chilton were found guilty, an intermediate appellate court affirmed, and the State Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on the ground that “no substantial constitutional question” was involved” (Cornell Law). A pat down for weapons, for the officer’s safety, is allowed if the officer has a reasonable inclination that the person “may be armed and presently dangerous.” One controversial aspect about Terry vs Ohio was as a result, cops could no longer pat or “shake” down random people on the street. They are required to have a reason consistent with that individuals Fourth Amendment rights, and many officers felt stifled by the ordeal. Many didn’t like the idea of civil limitations on what officers could and could not do. Ultimately, the implementation of the Terry stop and frisk has effectively changed policing, causing the ruling to be used by law enforcement and politicians to fulfill their own agendas.

The issue in today’s day and age is the concept of “reasonable suspicion”. There are plenty of lawmakers who have a “zero tolerance” policy on crime who want police officers to arrest as many “criminals” as they can. “An analysis of the “Terry” decision notes that although it permits officers to conduct frisks in the interest of their personal safety, such frisks can be initiated only if the officer has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual” (Lampson, Criminal Law Bulletin 1992). The issue is if the officer makes an observation that leads him or her to believe a crime has taken place causing them to make an arrest, but later evidence proves that the officer’s observations were inaccurate, the arrest is still valid and lawful as long as the officer did not act in malice. Reasonable suspicion tends to protect officers even when they are clearly wrong, and even with the media backlash it becomes an us vs them scenario. “Critics say the ruling opened the door to racial profiling and harassment of minority communities. But those problems were even worse before Terry v. Ohio because the harassment was invisible,” (DeBrosse 2018). Politicians play on fear and if they can convince the people that law enforcement is in danger, and in order to protect the people that respond to our 911 calls we need to allow egregious implementations of police power, then that’s exactly what happens regardless of any potential racial implications. There needs to be a consistent balance between the power of the police and the rights of the people.

In New York, where the Terry stops were disproportionately implemented is where the majority of complaints were generated, the individuals who were stopped and found to be most likely related to crime were black and/or Hispanic. These populations were disproportionately involved in gang and drug related activities so in a sense it was effective in identifying that. But at the same time, it was blatantly discriminatory and amounted to racial profiling. On one hand Terry stops can be racially motivated due to the officer’s choice to patrol only in certain neighborhoods, but on the other hand, there’s no doubt that the Terry Stop policy is the reason why very dangerous drugs and weapons have been removed from the area. The way that New York was implementing their own version of stop and frisk was what brought the process to the mainstream media. The issue behind New York’s stop-and-frisk was that officers were basing their “reasonable suspicion” on the “suspect” being in a high-crime area. Location is not reasonable suspicion, so of course this was a huge issue. When the policy is used correctly and for the intended use of public safety then there is no issue or public outcry, because we know that law enforcement is doing their job without a biased eye. The fact is, it’s a difficult task to attempt to respect societal considerations with a mutually acceptable policing strategy.

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Terry vs Ohio and Fourth Amendment. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/terry-vs-ohio-and-fourth-amendment/